Inside the Vatican’s first-ever, 36-hour hackathon

The pace of things may have seemed a little different at the Vatican over the weekend as they hosted their first-ever 36-hour hackathon.

The event, called ‘VHacks: A hackathon at the Vatican’ brings together 120 students, developers and entrepreneurs from 30 countries to find high-tech solutions to issues of social inclusion, inter-faith dialogue and the challenges facing migrants and refugees.

While issues addressed at the conference include the migrant and refugee crisis, the focus was on viewing the problem from a different perspective, said Jesuit Fr Michael Czerny, Undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

"When we talk about migrants and refugees, we tend to talk about it in vast terms as if it were a huge problem or a so-called global problem. But in fact, it's a collection of very individual problems, particular problems of persons and of families," Czerny stated.

Several tech giants, including Google and Microsoft, sponsored the 36-hour hackathon, which "is a sprint-like event in which multi-disciplinary teams collaborate to create solutions under a time constraint," a statement from VHacks said.

The Vatican’s “codefest” came about after a meeting last year between Harvard student Jakub Florkiewicz and Reverend Eric Salobir, the founder of Optic, the first Vatican-affiliated think tank on technology, during a Harvard leadership summit in Rome.

The two paired up with Monsignor Lucio Ruiz from the Vatican's Secretariat for Communication, and with the support of the Pontifical Council for Culture and Section for Migrants and Refugees of the Holy See, received approval to organise the Hackathon on behalf of the Vatican.

According to Ruiz, Pope Francis was excited by the idea from the start, saying “Yes, we must do it!”

Pope Francis has previously stated: “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion.”

Aside from developing possible technological solutions to social issues, Czerny said the Vatican-sponsored hackathon helps young people become "more informed and especially more concerned about the migrant and refugee issue."

"These young people are future - you might say - activists and even leaders in the high-tech sector," Czerny said.

"And I am counting on them to bring this sensitivity, this awareness to their future work and their future leadership and this will be an improvement and a contribution."

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