The Vatican on Friday gave its blessing to a new German website called "Adopt a Cardinal" that is encouraging the faithful to pray for individual cardinals chosen at random by a computer programme.

"The cardinals were informed about the website. A lot of people have signed up," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters, referring to ongoing pre-conclave talks in the Vatican.

"There is a movement of prayer with the help of a website," Lombardi said.

When a person signs up to, he or she is randomly allocated one of the 115 "cardinal electors" who will take part in next week's conclave to elect a new pope.

More than 350,000 people have signed up so far to the website, which aims to help Catholic faithful concentrate their prayers.

"The cardinals need to be prayed for," said Ulli Heckl, a 37-year-old from Germany who is one of the creators of the website and a member of Youth 2000, an international Catholic movement that is backing the site.

Heckl said there had been huge interest from parishes, religious congregations and even old people's homes where many have been concentrating their prayers on a particular cardinal to help him make the right choice.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]