ICT4SDG
September 12, 2017

My meeting with the Pope: Houlin Zhao

By Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General

On 1 September 2017, I met His Holiness Pope Francis in his office.

He warmly welcomed me and expressed his support for using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve lives worldwide.

After expressing my gratitude and support, I had the opportunity to talk about ITU’s rich history, its membership, mission, mandates and activities.

I conveyed to him that our organization values the fact that Vatican City has been a member of ITU since 1929, soon after it became an independent state, and has been an active participant in ITU processes ever since.

I also emphasized how hard ITU has been working to develop new technologies to connect people, how we facilitate the marvelous development of ICTs everywhere in the world – and how we advocate for the delivery of ICTs’ benefits to everyone so that nobody is left behind.

Today, roughly half of the world’s people are connected online and by mobile phones, and many applications are improving people’s lives in new and exciting ways. However, another half are not yet connected, most of them in poor and remote areas. In addition, a digital divide still exists in which many groups, such as women and girls and disabled people, have disproportionately lower rates of access to the ICTs that are so important in today’s digital economy.

I addressed the fact that ITU is doing its utmost to address these challenges, encouraging the application of new technologies, including 4G/5G, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and others to improve the lives of disadvantaged groups worldwide. I stressed that we should also closely engage small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

A modern leader, embracing ICTs

I noted that the Pope had delivered a message on World Communications Day, and found time to receive me. We are grateful that he uses the power of modern ICT applications, like Twitter, to achieve greater impact in his quest to improve lives.

I also mentioned to him that ITU will have its quadrennial World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC 17) in Buenos Aires, Argentina in October, where we will discuss our developments and challenges, and develop our strategy and action plans to extend the power and benefits of ICTs to all.

He was pleased with the work done by ITU and he agreed to send his message to WTDC 17.

When discussing the growing importance of privacy, security and confidence related to cyber applications, I noted that His Holiness several times expressed his concerns about information abuse and the need to safeguard users’ interests. I was pleased to report to the Pope that ITU is facilitating international coordination on cybersecurity. He nodded also stressed the importance of education, adding that enhancing our efforts to use ICTs to improve education would be beneficial.

His Holiness told me that he appreciated ITU’s work and praised ITU for its vision to bring the benefits of ICTs to everybody.

I left Vatican City with a renewed sense of confidence in our mission, grateful to have had such a fruitful meeting.

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