When Pope John Paul II underwent colon surgery recently, Roman Catholics around the world turned to prayer. But the way they found out that their prayers had been answered was decidedly more secular. On July 20, the Vatican instantly spread word to the faithful on five continents that the Pope's growth was benign by using a computer network installed by GE Information Services Co., the Rockville (Md.)-based unit of General Electric Co.

After the Pope was shot in 1981, the Vatican relied on the news media to keep the Catholic clergy and the laity updated. A fax news service helped, but electronic-mail is cheaper in some parts of the world, says Vatican spokesman Pietro Brunori. According to The Catholic Twin Circle, a U.S. newspaper, big fans of the Vatican's e-mail include Cardinals John O'Connor of New York and Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles.

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