ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and His Holiness Pope Francis met on 1 September in the office of His Holiness for a private meeting on the global importance of bridging the digital divide. 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.
During the meeting, Secretary-General Zhao shared with His Holiness ITU's commitment to supporting the development of new technologies that serve to connect the world's people, in particular those who remain unconnected, which is almost half of the world's population in some of the poorest and most remote areas around the globe. He also highlighted the benefits of being connected by mobile broadband, which provides billions of people worldwide with access to critical digital health, education and economic resources.
His Holiness expressed his support for information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the role they can play in providing the world's poorest with access to socio-economic resources. He also acknowledged the valuable role of ITU to bring ICT resources and new technologies to the world.
Secretary-General Zhao also raised the important issue of digital access for the world's refugees, disabled, women and girls, and economically disadvantaged, stressing that the digital divide is the greatest for these groups. For this reason, he said, ITU is committed to leaving no one behind in today's digital world, and ITU is actively supporting innovations in this regard, including 5G, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.
The two also discussed their shared concerns related to personal online confidence and cybersecurity, with Secretary-General Zhao sharing with His Holiness that ITU is facilitating international coordination on cybersecurity.
Secretary-General Zhao appreciated His Holiness's personal use of social media channels to communicate with the Vatican's worldwide audiences, and his support of ICTs in his message on "World Communications Day."
To convey his message of support for ICTs and to appreciate ITU's work, His Holiness will deliver a message for the ITU's forthcoming World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC 17) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
During his visit to Vatican City, Secretary-General Zhao also had the opportunity to meet with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The two discussed the benefits of ICTs for the populations, the challenge to further development of ICTs in the world and opportunities for further collaboration towards a bridging of the digital divide to benefit billions of people worldwide.