Its not quite a direct line to God, but mobile phone users can now receive the thoughts of Pope John Paul II each day in the form of a text message. The Holy Father spreads the word to subscribers in the form of an SMS (short messaging service) of up to 160 characters containing information about a saint, a thought for the day taken from the Bible or a prayer; Oh Lord, make me give of myself freely without expecting anything in return is one example.

The service is available to users of the TIM network and costs e0.15 per message or e4.50 per month. It can be activated by calling the free TIM number 119. The popes thoughts, which are compiled by the press office at the Holy See, are currently available only in Italian but there are plans to translate them into six other languages including English.

Pope John Paul II, 82, has always been positive about the possibilities offered by information technology, though he doesnt carry a mobile phone himself and once confessed that while he understood the word computer, he wasnt entirely sure what lay behind it.

Meanwhile the popularity of texting among Italians continues to soar. The three main mobile phone operators TIM, Omnitel and Wind reported that between them they had processed some 310 million messages on New Years Eve and into the early hours of 1 January, more than double the amount sent during the same period the previous year.