Pope Francis. File picture: Giampiero Sposito

London -

The Vatican has ordered Catholics to replace hugs and kisses with handshakes when they are offering the sign of peace during services.

In some Catholic communities, hugging and kissing is preferred to a formal handshake.

But a letter approved by Pope Francis and written by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship has instructed bishops to draw up strict new guidelines.

The circular said churchgoers should be offered “practical measures” to help them perform the gesture with more sobriety.

The Vatican’s current sign of peace guidelines explain: “The manner is to be established in accordance with the culture and customs of the people.

“However it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest. In many countries this typically means shaking hands with those nearest to you.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI previously called for “greater restraint” over the gesture, which he said was often exaggerated, causing “distraction in the assembly”. - Daily Mail