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Pope damns idea of Hellfire

FORGET THE flames and devils with pitchforks. A week after telling Roman Catholics that Heaven was not up in the clouds, the Pope said Hell was not a physical place either.

Lest sinners think they can get off lightly, though, he said Hell was for real and, rather than being inflicted by God, was something sinners brought on themselves. "Hell is not a punishment imposed externally by God, but the condition resulting from attitudes and actions which people adopt in this life. More than a physical place, Hell is the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God... " the Pope said at a weekly audience. "So eternal damnation is not God's work but... our own doing."

The Pope described Hell instead as "the pain, frustration and emptiness of life without God". But demons do exist, he said. "Christian faith teaches us there are creatures who have already given a definitive `no' to God. These are the spirits which rebelled against God and whom we call demons."

They serve as a warning for humans, he said: "Eternal damnation remains a real possibility for us too." But good Catholics had nothing to fear. "The reality of Hell should not... be a cause of anxiety or despair for believers. Rather, it is a necessary and healthy reminder that human freedom has to be conformed to the example of Jesus, who always said `yes' to God, who conquered Satan and who gave us his spirit so that we too could call God `Father'."

The Pope's end-of-millennium guidelines on Hell came a week after he told pilgrims that Heaven was not "a physical place in the clouds but a living and personal relationship of union with the Holy Trinity", and that a foretaste could be had on Earth. (Reuters)