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Friday, November 20, 1998 Published at 13:22 GMT

World: Europe

Pope confesses as computer convert

Computers have changed my life says Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II has a new mission - to take the word of the gospel into cyberspace.

The revelation is something of a turnaround for the 78-year old leader of the Roman Catholic church.

In 1990 on a tour of an Olivetti office machines factory near Turin he confessed he knew "what the word 'computer' means but not the meaning behind he word."

Eight years on though and the PC pontiff now admits he is something of a convert.

[ image: Oops - I've wiped it all...]
Oops - I've wiped it all...
"Computers have changed the world quite a lot," the Pope said, "and they've certainly changed my own life."

He was responding to a gift of 50 laptop computers from students at a private Catholic university in Rome to spread the word in dioceses across Africa and Eastern Europe.

There was one more laptop for his high-tech holiness himself.

Spreading the word

The pope told the students he now has two computers in his private offices and has given his seal of approval to the development of the Vatican's website as a way of communicating with his cyber flock.

But according to aides he still prefers to write his message by hand in Polish on stiff white Vatican paper.

Since last August, wired up Catholics have been able to follow the Pope's weekly audiences and special masses in real time courtesy of archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael - the Vatican's three net servers.

Earlier this year the Pope told Polish bishops on a visit to Rome that they should fully exploit the resources of the Internet to spread the Gospel message.

But the use of the Internet for publishing news about the Catholic Church is no longer limited to official use.

A group of Catholic theologians who disagree with some of Rome's teaching have announced they are setting up their own alternative website.

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