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Pope Francis asks people to give up being cruel to each other online for Lent

Andrew Griffin
Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020, at the Santa Sabina church in Rome: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

The Pope has called on Catholics to give up insulting each other during Lent.

He urged followers to stop being cruel to each other online, in response to a world "polluted by too much verbal violence". Pope Francis warned of the "offensive and harmful words" being amplified online in a speech to a general audience on Ash Wednesday.

He also urged Catholics to put down their phones and "open the Bible" instead.

"Lent is a time to disconnect from cell phones and connect to the Gospel," he said, according to Vatican News.

"It is the time to give up useless words, chatter, rumours, gossip, and talk and to speak directly to the Lord."

There was no television when Pope Francis was a child and his family made a point of not listening to the radio, he told thousands of attendants in St Peter's Square.

He also reminded people of the importance of fasting over the 40-day Lent period, saying: "Fasting is being capable of giving up the superfluous and going to the essential.

"Fasting is not only losing weight, it is seeking the beauty of a simpler life."

In recent years, Francis himself has been the butt of insults from ultra-conservative Catholic websites and mostly anonymous anti-pope Twitter feeds.

Twitter has also become a platform for sometimes pitched verbal battles between his supporters and detractors.

Later on Wednesday, Francis was due to have ashes rubbed on his forehead at a traditional Ash Wednesday service that reminds Christians of mortality and that everyone will someday become dust.

During Lent, which is marked by repentance, fasting and reflection, the faithful are also called on to practice more good deeds, such as alms giving, and to be particularly closer to the needy.

Additional reporting by agencies

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