Hackathons are opportunities for coders to gather in one place to achieve a common goal with just their computers and a little programming know-how. The coding often takes place in the span of a few days, so participants are required to work marathon-style to build new software. While the events are nothing new—they've become popular around the world as a way to come up with creative new tech ideas, fast—this is the first time one has infiltrated the holy headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
For the 36-hour event, called VHacks, 120 college students of different faiths from around the world were chosen to code software tools that can promote social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and assistance for migrants and refugees—three global issues the church is committed to tackling.
A modern hackathon may seem like an odd choice for an organization that's the same in many ways today as when it formed nearly 2000 years ago, but it's part of a broader push from the Catholic Church toward embracing new technology.
In 2017, Pope Francis made a surprise appearance at the annual TED conference in Vancouver, Canada. "How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion," he said during his speech. VHacks was designed with this idea in mind, asking young people to tackle serious social issues through programming.
The pope has been outspoken about bringing the church into the 21st century since he took the papal throne in 2013. While he has warned of the perils of using technology frivolously, Pope Francis is also a big proponent of using it for good. He is active on social media and once referred to the web as "a gift from God."
VHacks kicked off at the Vatican on March 8 and will conclude on Sunday, March 11. At the end of the event, a panel of judges from the Vatican and from various tech companies will judge the teams on their creativity, innovation, and the potential impact and feasibility of their projects.