Roman Catholics should turn off the television and strike up conversations during Lent, Pope John Paul II urged Sunday.

"In many families the television seems to substitute, rather than facilitate, dialogue among people," the pontiff said. "A type of `fast' also in this area could be healthy."Roman Catholics traditionally abstain from a certain food or activity during Lent, the 40-day period before Easter. Lent began on Feb. 21 this year.

The pope said Lent also should be a time of personal reflection. Besides less TV, he appealed for a step back from the "consumerism . . . that often generates excessive behavior."

"Everything seems so necessary and imperative. There's the risk that you will never find time to be alone with yourself," the pontiff told crowds in St. Peter's Square.

The mass media "has an undeniable use, but it shouldn't be the `master' of our lives," said the pope, who has recently turned a harsh eye toward television and advertising.

On Thursday, the pope told a Vatican committee on the media that broadcasters should adopt a "renewed sense of public service and higher standards of decency."

The pope is keenly aware of the clout of the mass media. Many of his major Masses are broadcast around the world and he has helped transform the Vatican into a media powerhouse - with Internet sites and vast TV and radio services.

Earlier Sunday, the pope blessed a new church in Rome dedicated to Jose Maria Escriva, a Spaniard who founded the Opus Dei lay religious group.