The Vatican hackathon

The Vatican hackathon
The Vatican will be holding a hackathon event this week. The event is intended to raise awareness on a number of social issues. The Vatican City State is a sovereign..

The Vatican will be holding a hackathon event this week. The event is intended to raise awareness on a number of social issues.

Background

The Vatican City State is a sovereign state located within Rome in Italy. It is the smallest state in the world, with an area of 110 acres and a population of 1000. It is home to a number of religious and cultural sites. The Pope is the sovereign head of state with absolute power in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The Italian military is responsible for the Vatican’s defence.  The Pontifical Swiss Guard is the de facto security force within the city. It is maintained by the Holy See for the Pope’s safety.

Cyber-crime is a growing security threat for nations across the world, and the Vatican has not emerged unscathed from technology-related crimes. In 2012, the Vatican introduced new security measures including microchip-tracking devices, after the so called “Vatileaks” scandal, when a number of confidential documents were leaked to media. These leaks brought a spotlight on corruption within the Church.

Pope Francis is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to lead the Roman Catholic Church. He was chosen to succeed Benedict XVI in 2013. Five years into his papacy, polls suggest the Pope enjoys high popularity ratings, among Catholics and other faiths. He is followed by more than 15 million people on Twitter.

He has seen support for his "common touch" and his zealous determination to reform the Curia (Vatican bureaucracy), root out corruption in the Vatican bank and deal with the horrific history of child sex abuse. He has also spoken in favour of a two-state solution for Palestine, and called for action on issues such as climate change. He is credited with having a less formal approach to the papacy than his predecessors. In 2017, a picture of the Pope went viral when it was revealed that he had covered the front-facing camera of his tablet with a sticker – a simple strategy used by those familiar with technology to prevent potential hackers from accessing the camera.

However, the Pope maintains a number of traditional views on topics such as abortion and contraception.

Analysis

The Vatican will reportedly be holding a hackathon event in Vatican City. A number students will participate in the “VHacks” event. VHacks is intended to raise awareness in support of three key themes: social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and migrants and refugees.  

In this context the word “hackathon” is derived from the phrase “hack marathon”. It is an event where programming and technology professionals come together to collaborate on the development of software.

The event is organised by the Secretariat for Communication established by Pope Francis in 2015, and OPTIC. OPTIC is an “international network of research and innovation dedicated to ethical issues of disruptive technologies”. It was initiated by the Catholic Order of Preachers.

VHacks describes itself as a movement that “assembles passionate minds and experienced professionals across academia, business, and values-focused institutions.” Its focus is on “leveraging technology to promote human values, such as equality and social inclusion”.

Pope Francis has been supportive of scientific development. He has called for “the growth of scientific and technological innovation… along with more equality and social inclusion”. However he has also warned against the potential pitfalls that come with technological advancements.

“Artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological innovations must be so employed that they contribute to the service of humanity and to the protection of our common home, rather than to the contrary. It is vital to safeguard the dignity of the human person,” the Pope said in an address at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this January.

Father Eric Slobir, president of OPTIC said that the hackathon was “a sign of the transformation of the [Catholic] church led by Pope Francis.”

Assessment

Our assessment is that this event is exemplary of the Church’s gradual shift towards modernization. Under Pope Francis, the Church has taken progressive steps towards embracing science and technology.

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