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Bishops give thumbs down to technology for Lent

Some Catholics urge doing without texting during the season to honor 'concrete' relationships.

March 05, 2009|Alana Semuels

They say idle hands are the devil's tools. But this Lent, it may be texting thumbs doing the dirty work.

That's what some Roman Catholic bishops are telling the faithful, urging them to give up technology such as iPods and behavior such as text messaging until Easter.

Catholic groups in Italy's Modena and southern Bari are calling for a ban on text messaging every Friday in Lent, which began a week ago.

"It's a small way to remember the importance of concrete and not virtual relationships," the Modena diocese said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. The diocese hopes the texting ban will draw attention to the conflict in Congo, which it says is fueled by a struggle over mines that supply minerals used to make cellphones.

Lent is about becoming more aware of God and who you truly are, said Father James Heft, a professor of religion at USC and president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. For some people, that might mean giving up things they are addicted to, while for others it means engaging more with friends and family.

For some, it might mean doing away with technological distractions such as Twitter, he said.

"These are all things that can be tools, but they can be addictions," he said. "They can contribute to an inability to silence the self."

What people give up for Lent often reflects the times, Heft said. In the 1950s, his family went without television and popcorn.

Now there are dozens of Facebook groups about giving up the social-networking site for Lent. Some members confessed to having already failed.

Eschewing technology may seem to some an impossible task. What would Jesus do? Some Catholics say he would want them to stay in touch in a connected world.

"Why would people not want God to live with the times?" asked Silvia Beltramini, a Catholic school grad who is now an event designer living in downtown L.A.

Lent, she said, is about personal growth, which doesn't always mean taking away something important. She's meditating daily, for instance.

Other suggestions from Catholic bishops include giving up TV, riding bikes instead of driving cars and not throwing gum on the street.

Is the pope off the hook in regard to the technology ban? Someone in the Vatican seems to be. A video about Benedict XVI's visit to Cameroon was uploaded to his YouTube channel Wednesday.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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