A Mission to Map GoodLands’ executive director, Molly Burhans accounts recent travels to Nairobi, Kenya to speak at the ICT4D conference and Rome, Italy for discussions about the GLP’s work with Vatican Leadership. Read more to learn details of these travels and what’s on the agenda for the next trip to Rome.
Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are - in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped. -- Sir William Bragg
cience and its relationship to spirituality is a topic that has been at the forefront of my consciousness since my undergraduate years, when I developed a deep interest in land-use issues related to social justice concerns of the Catholic Church and became aware of the extraordinary power of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to address these concerns. Last month I attended and presented at the ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) Conference, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya and was partly sponsored by Catholic Relief Services. Attending this conference afforded me the opportunity to see technology and science aiding faith in action in a manner that wonderfully illustrated the accuracy and truth of the insight expressed by Sir William Bragg. The conference showcased technology enabled by agricultural and other sciences that helps those who are hungry to be fed, those who are thirsty to find drink, and strangers to find shelter and friendship through the profoundly human and transformative gift of hospitality. One of my goals at this conference was to absorb as much information as I could concerning the design and maintenance of business and technology infrastructures and information management architectures that successfully integrate data and
The map image on this page is from an application GoodLands developed as part of its work mapping the global Vincentian family.
transform it into actionable information that can positively impact some of the difficult problems the GoodLand Project (GLP) is attempting to address. Technology is not a panacea for our woes, but rather a part of a complex fabric that enables pursuit of a better world. Understanding how technology can be employed to sustainably address the challenges we face as well as the resources and workflows required is important to the success of most global organizations that are pursuing a common good. At the conference I also presented the GLP to an audience that included the COO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which is an organization I hope the GLP will have an opportunity to partner with in the future. I have been impressed and inspired by CRS’s ICT strategy, which manages to integrate various technology platforms with its humanitarian efforts in 93 countries. The time I spent in Nairobi helped clarify the “50 year goal” for the GoodLand Project. Catholic Health Care is the largest nongovernmental network of health care in the world, Catholic Education is the largest network of education in the world, and Catholic Aid and Relief is likely the largest nongovernmental network of humanitarian aid in the world. I realized that GoodLand’s mapping and conservation partnerships are part of a movement that I hope will one day make Catholic conservation and sustainability the largest network of its type in the world. We’re starting with a strong foundation -- Catholics already own potentially the largest network of landholdings in the world and
there is immense human infrastructure in place within the Catholic Church for education and action. Just as GoodLands is working across geographic scales, from the parcel to the global, it is also working towards a long-term vision encompassed by our 50 year goals by employing more immediate strategies that will hopefully reveal - as Peter Maurin once astutely remarked – “. . . how a path can be made from the things as they are to the things as they should be.” While climate change presents an immense challenge to the world, I am optimistic that we still have the opportunity to reimagine our environment and to integrate natural systems in new ways that ultimately benefit our planet and communities. I am especially optimistic about the ability of technology working together with faith to illuminate the critical issue of environmental degradation and its relation to values – something that I believe has immense power to ignite change. After departing the ICT4D conference and Nairobi, I flew to Rome, where I spent much of my time in a series of meetings and masses, and working on current mapping projects. The final day of the ICT4D conference I received an email from a contact at the newly forming Technology and Arts Council at the Vatican, which I have been communicating with for the past few months, alerting me that the current plan is to “present to His Holiness Pope Francis in December.” This was the most exciting way to end the conference and gear up for Rome. My first meeting in Rome was at the Palace de San Callisto at the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice’s office, where I spoke for an hour with Cardinal Peter
His Eminence Cardinal Turkson and GLP Executive Director Molly Burhans in the Palazzo San Callisto. May 24, 2016.
Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice and a key player in drafting of the recent papal encyclical Laudato Si’. It was inspiring, humbling, and very enjoyable. Cardinal Turkson and I discussed the conservation side of the GoodLand Project and how strategic Catholic land-use could benefit the world’s ecosystems health and ultimately put Laudato Si’ into practice. During our meeting, I presented to Cardinal Turkson the GLP’s current and future programs and discussed how we hope to work with the Church. We talked for quite some time about land-use and its relation to soil health, water access, and aquifer levels, geology maps, and how mapping could help the Church secure land rights, especially in parts of Africa where cadastral data creation programs are well underway. The meeting ended with Cardinal Turkson walking me to the parking lot as we continued our
discussions, which somehow (and wonderfully) ended on the topic of the spirituality of St. Ignatius. I then made my way to Mass at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, where Pope Francis gave a beautiful homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Shortly after, I found myself in a stream of tens of thousands of Catholics and curious onlookers, including many brothers and sisters in full religious attire, processing from the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of Saint Mary. I noticed as we processed to the Basilica of Saint Mary that on my right were nuns speaking animatedly to one another in Italian, on my left were monks speaking what sounded like German, while a crowd of Indian sisters in front of me lead the way. It was a reminder of how truly global the Catholic Church is and of the immense value and joy that stems from diversity, as well as the gratitude I feel for being able to experience this diversity of the church through the GoodLand Project’s work. In Rome I found myself in less than ideal, but cost-effective living quarters in a hostel, where I stood out like a sore thumb, sharing breakfast with weary and hungover travelers while I worked on maps. The Rome I found on Corpus Christi was the Rome I was looking for, and I came to realize that enduring the strains of living in the hostel was perhaps humbling and grounding and character-building, and it became part of the journey. “Give yourself to God, like bread and fishes,” was the message of Francis’ homily – “like the Eucharist, we must not be afraid to break ourselves and give all we have to God and the world.” While at the Vatican I visited the Hall of Maps, a cartographic and artistic masterpiece in the Vatican Museum, which one passes through before entering the Sistine Chapel. I stood in awe at the maps on the walls and imagined a GIS version – I was thinking about the tremendous architecture and artistry that could be put into a spectacular new hall of maps that
Feast of Corpus Christi procession
Galleria delle carte geografiche contains a series of maps painted based off of Italy friar and geographer Ignazio Danti’s work.
could inspire, as this one does, while telling the story of the Church’s history and its impact on the world. I met with individuals involved with the Technology and Arts Council, which would be the council to make such a hall happen. An incubator lab is forming within the Holy See as part of the Technology and Arts Council, and the current plan is for GoodLand Project maps to be the first project to be showcased. We are now working with a Council member on the details of a December presentation to Pope Francis and what it will involve. My point person for this task is a member of the council who has designed major projection/architecture projects for events such as the Beijing Olympics. I am hoping to work with my contact to present maps in a format inspired by the Vatican’s Hall of Maps. It turns out there are people involved with this council from major technology companies, including Oracle and Google, and I remain surprised and grateful that no one thought of mapping before now. The Catholic Community Spatial Data Infrastructure the GLP is creating may be helpful as
part of a network of hubs for data that the council was initially interested in, which is to digitize the Vatican’s art assets. I’m also excited and hopeful about exploring additional potential relationships with Oracle. Behind every really good map is a really good database—the global mapping program of the GLP is truly a global database building program at this point. These databases will lay the foundation for visualizing all types of information. My next meeting was with Gregory Burke from Catholic News Service, who was introduced to me as Pope Francis’ PR guru - it was a good introduction to each other’s work. Following this meeting I met with Archbishop Becciu’s second in command, at the Secretariat of State’s office -- Archbishop Becciu is the Vatican’s chief of staff. I had never been in the Vatican City outside of the tourist areas, and I was able to see that it truly is a city, with people that live within its boundaries, roads, buildings - your basic urban works. I walked into the Apostolic Palace, where popes prior to Francis lived, which required passing through multiple checkpoints, the Swiss Guard guiding me along the way. I finally made my way to the third floor Office of the Secretariat of State - leading to it were more fresco
Maps in the Apostolic Palace
Papal Swiss Guard - I learned from a museum display that they wake up at 4:30a.m. and live a simple disciplined life. (courtesy Flicker, user: lostajy)
maps, hidden from tourists’ eyes, lining a hallway with natural light delicately pouring through the translucent curtains of windows that line one side of the hall. This was arguably the most important meeting of the trip—I could have been told to stop the project right away, to not map - but the response was immensely positive. The Secretariat of State meetings were also vital in securing the GLP’s business structure—since
A view into St. Peter’s Square from the Apostolic Palace’s roof.
the Holy See did not express immediate interest in taking this on internally we will now transition from a sponsorship relationship to incorporation as a nonprofit, GoodLands Inc., which will direct the conservation, geodesign, and planning work and the Catholic Cartography Center, which will be a class B corporation that has rights to all of the data gathered by GoodLands, generates its own data, and directs the Global Mapping and Catholic Community Spatial Data Infrastructure. While the Holy See cannot formally endorse nongovernmental organizations, it did approve of our work and provided next steps for creating a map of ecclesiastical jurisdictions. One of our summer interns from the University of Chicago is developing the databases for global Catholic maps, to be joined with the
St. Peter’s Square
Molly Burhans enjoying a view and the chance to discuss St. Thomas Aquinas’ legal theory and Catholic geographies. #Jesuiteducated
geographic boundaries once these maps are constructed. There are a number of additional offices in the Holy See that I am connecting with regarding mapping ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and it was suggested that I perhaps also meet with each Episcopal Conference of Bishops. We also discussed how I would define privacy and security protocols with individual groups. As the meeting came to a close and we decided next steps, one of the monsignors asked “Which office would be best? This is relevant to everything.” It’s not every day that you get to walk around the Apostolic Palace, and I tried to savor every minute and each map and fresco I passed. Msgr. Owen took me on a brief tour of the floor, taking me through a Raphael painted hallway, past more maps, and then we finally
made our way to the roof, which afforded a spectacular view of St. Peter’s Square. I then went on my way, passing Swiss Guards and proceeding through the Santa Maria gate, back into the tourist-filled streets of Rome, with a sense of awe. The reality began to sink in -- The Catholic Church will have maps and the Spatial Data Infrastructure will happen. I believe that these will be extraordinarily important components of a potentially unprecedented global sustainability and conservation movement that, as Pope Francis argued in Laudato Si’, is urgently needed in today’s world. During the plane ride home to the United States I found myself not only identifying as an executive, but also very deeply as a modern cartographer. GIS created a revolution in our spatial understanding. Looking out the plane window, I saw shorelines and other geographical features, as well as buildings reduced to tiny specks as the plane rose further and further from the earth’s surface. Modern cartographers no longer trace shorelines from ships. They seek treasure troves of data waiting to be discovered and transformed. They work with complex social networks that can reveal where to get information and how, then communicate this information and present it in new, more actionable ways. They are story tellers and artists as much as they are executives, marketers, and philosophers. The modern cartographer’s domain is as vast as the application of maps and spatial understanding--it is relevant to everything.
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