Pope Francis tells Catholics to give up trolling for Lent

'We live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence', Pope says

Pope Francis takes part in the penitential procession on Ash Wednesday in Rome. Reuters
Pope Francis takes part in the penitential procession on Ash Wednesday in Rome. Reuters

Pope Francis called on Catholics to give up trolling and insulting people online for Lent in his Vatican address on Wednesday.

The pope made his appeal to tone things down while speaking to tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square for his general audience on Ash Wednesday, the start of the 40-day season that leads up to Easter.

Lent, he said in partially improvised remarks, "is a time to give up useless words, gossip, rumours, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first name basis," he said.

"We live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence, too many offensive and harmful words, which are amplified by the internet," he said. "Today, people insult each other as if they were saying 'Good Day.'"

In recent years, Pope Francis 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 40 days of 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.

Solidarity with coronavirus victims

Catholic faithful wear face masks in St Peter's Square. AFP
Catholic faithful wear face masks in St Peter's Square. AFP

Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with those hit by the global outbreak of the coronavirus, praising those working to battle the virus.

Italy has suffered the worst outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Europe, with 374 cases of the disease and 12 deaths.

"I would like to express my closeness to the coronavirus patients and to the health workers who are treating them, as well as to the civil authorities," the pope said at his weekly audience at the Vatican.

Only a few of 12,000 faithful who turned out to see him on Saint Peter's Square were wearing face masks.

However at the end of the audience, Pope Francis did not leave on his "popemobile" as usual but instead took the time to shake hands with tens of the congregation and kissed some of the children present, an AFP photographer reported.

Pope visit to Iraq off

Pope Francis arrives to lead his weekly general audience on St.Peter's square on February 26, 2020. AFP 
Pope Francis arrives to lead his weekly general audience on St.Peter's square on February 26, 2020. AFP

Pope Francis indicated on Wednesday he would not be visiting Iraq this year as he had hoped to do.

His comments to a group of visiting Iraqis during his general audience in St Peter's Square were his clearest yet that the trip had been indefinitely postponed.

"To you citizens of Iraq, I say I am very close to you. You are [in] a battleground. You suffer war, from one side and the other," he said. "I pray for you and I pray for your country, where a visit by me had been programmed for this year."

Updated: February 26, 2020 08:32 PM

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