Worried parents may think the Pok�mon kiddie-card craze is the work of the devil, but the pope has reportedly decided the game is good for children.
The Vatican gave its blessing to the game just as its popularity is soaring in Italy, where "Pok�mon: The First Movie" opens this week, the Times of London reported yesterday.
The trading-card and computer game is "full of inventive imagination," said Sat2000, a satellite TV station run by the Vatican.
The game did not have "any harmful moral side effects" and was based on "ties of intense friendship," the station said.
Pok�mon pushes its pint-sized players to think creatively to conquer challenges without violence, said the station, which is run by the Italian Bishops' Conference.
Sat2000 said the game told simple stories which allowed children "to enter directly into the story" through role-playing adventures.
Italian children have shown almost a religious devotion to Pikachu and Co., spending loads of lire to snap up every available Pok�mon card and sticker.
But officials fear the Mafia will strong-arm its way into the craze, flooding the streets with counterfeit cards because the real ones are now almost impossible to find in stores.
Italian children already have bought 50 million packets of the cards in just over a month.
The same hysteria earlier this year left American parents and educators wondering if the game was a sinful temptation.
Some parents complained their children were breaking their piggy banks to buy cards and that ugly schoolyard fights were sparked over them.
Italian opinion-makers have generally endorsed the game.
The Catholic Church's public blessing of Pok�mon seems part of an effort by ailing Pope John Paul II to reach out to young people.
The 79-year-old pontiff also is set to host a pop concert next month featuring Lou Reed and the Eurythmics, and a World Youth Festival during the summer.
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