Catholic University students train for VHacks 2018 with engineering associate professor Hang Liu. They will be at the Vatican from March 8-11 to compete in a 36-hour hackathon against other teams around the world. Photo from Catholic University/Twitter

Vatican hackathon aims to hack away at divisive social issues

By  Catholic News Agency
  • March 7, 2018
VATICAN - A “hackathon” is a hacking marathon: a collaborative computer programming event in which a group works under a tight deadline to find software or programming approaches to real-world problems.

On March 8-11, the Vatican will host its first hackathon, VHacks. 120 young adult programmers, graphic designers, project managers, and others from around the world will spend 36 hours “hacking” together over the course of three days.

The Vatican hackathon aims to help leaders develop technological approaches to the needs of social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and migrants and refugees.

Jakub Florkiewicz, co-chairman of VHacks and a student at Harvard Business School, told CNA via email that the hackathon’s mission is “to inspire young people around the world to collaborate across divisions and to use technology to address social issues.”

“We think that technology could improve the scale and efficiency of those organizations which offer support and help to those in need.”

He pointed out that the Church is often at the forefront of helping people in remote places. Because churches “have the world’s most extensive distribution network,” he said, this “can be leveraged to do good.”

The event is being organized by a group of Harvard and MIT students, the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, and OPTIC, a global think-tank working on ethical issues related to disruptive technologies.

Co-organizers are the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the Migrants and Refugee section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. The event has also gained some big-name tech partners, including Google, Microsoft, and Italian telecommunications company TIM.

Inspiration for the event came, in part, from a remark from Pope Francis in a first-ever papal “Ted Talk” video published last year. He said:

“How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion.”

Participants come from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, and Florkiewicz said he is excited “to see how we will be at the forefront of cross-faith collaboration, with representatives of all the world's major religions, working together to solve problems we all care about.”

One of the event’s missions is to: “Encourage value-based institutions to embrace technology to further their missions.”

“We want to see religion as a binding force, uniting in goodness towards others, not dividing,” Florkiewicz stated.

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