In September 2022, delegates from around the world convened at the Sapienza University in Rome, Italy for the International Summit on the Assumpta Science Center Ofekata-Owerri Initiative (ASCO). Proud to represent the Kenya delegation at the international summit were two of Strathmore University’s very own; Dr. Jane Wathuta, Director of the Strathmore University Institute for Family Studies and Ethics (IFS) and Associate Dean at Strathmore Law School, and Simon Njoroge Bakibinga, a fourth-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Business Science: Actuarial Science degree, an intern at the IFS Education Promotion department and Male Academic Rep in the 13th Student Council.
The ASCO international summit
Delegates from around the world gathered at the School of Aerospace Engineering at the Sapienza University in Rome. The vibrant and diverse representations were brought together for one purpose: the 2022 ASCO International Summit. The theme was duly in line with its aim; Global Fraternity and Solidarity among Young people in Faith, Science and Culture in the vision of the Encyclicals Fratelli Tutti (FT) and Laudato Si.
The summit purposed to address the issues in the ongoing Synodal Process. Young people today make up a large portion of the world’s population. As the world continues to develop, young people are attracted by the marvels science creates, such as the emerging technologies. The youth also desire spirituality and the love of God. The problem thus comes about when there is lack of harmony between faith and science, putting youth in a position where they feel they have to choose between one or the other.
ASCO thus strives to encourage youth participation in the Church and its activities while creating an environment that allows faith and science to grow and develop together. This is crucial in developing countries such as Africa where innovative science and technology can be utilized to stimulate sustainable development.
The 2022 ASCO International summit brought different minds and expertise together to share and build upon plans and contributions aimed at promoting a greater presence of the Church in the modern science and technology sector in such a manner that the youth are fully involved and participate in both religious life and scientific progress. Key areas such as Women in Science and Catechizing in Science were discussed during the Summit by the various speakers in attendance.
Keeping in line with the ASCO summit theme, the Kenyan delegates sought to highlight the contribution of ethics in the integration of faith, science and culture, drawing from the experience of teaching ethics and other humanities courses in Strathmore University.
The summit was also blessed with the beautiful Christian melodies of the Dr. Kevin Johnson and the Spelman College Glee Club from USA that could only be described as ‘blissful’.
ASCO is a non-governmental, non-profit initiative under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture. It is comprised of students, youth, lecturers, teachers and networks of volunteers around the world. The initiative aims to promote informal science learning activities in Africa and especially among young people, for the purpose of synthesizing three key pillars of modern society: faith, science and sustainable development. The main branch of the ASCO initiative is located in Ofekata, Nigeria with sub-branches known as science centers across the country. On the 29th of May 2016, Pope Francis blessed the foundation stone for the building of the initiative’s main branch. The director of the initiative is Fr. Tobechi E. Anyadike.
The ASCO initiative was launched in early 2006, as a result of an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI during the European university students’ day. He encouraged universities to take up scientific and cultural projects in order to foster dialogue between science, faith and sustainable development. Pope Benedict XVI was a firm advocate for the integration of faith and science. He once stated during one of his famous Wednesday catechesis sessions that ‘Saint Albert the Great reminds us that between science and faith there is friendship.’
Pope Francis has also played a big role in pushing for the promotion of dialogue between faith and science, especially as a problem-solving tool in society today. In his two encyclicals; namely Laudato Sí and Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis brings out the importance of faith, global solidarity and science in driving sustainability and development in the world.
The city of Rome boasts of breathtaking architecture, magnificent works of art and a vibrant history. Delegates of the summit were able to visit places such as the Colosseum and St. Peters Basilica. On an early Wednesday morning, the various delegates headed to Vatican City for a Papal audience. They were lucky enough to receive the special greeting of the ASCO delegation.
The only thing better than experiencing a new culture is experiencing a variety of cultural experiences. Alongside the rich Italian culture, delegates were able to experience a touch of the vibrant Nigerian culture while in Rome. Nigerian cuisine such as fufu (pounded cassava) and jollof rice were shared generously as homage to the ASCO main base in Nigeria. Interacting and brainstorming on new ideas and ventures with a medley of people in a new city was also an enriching and informative experience.
Italy is largely famous for its pasta dishes, gelato and authentic pizzas. The creamy carbonara pasta and refreshing gelato truly lived up to their worldwide hype. To anyone planning on visiting a restaurant in Rome: Never ask for pineapples on a pizza!
The discussions and powerful messages received during the summit highlighted that science and faith are not on two different ends of a spectrum but rather are two pieces of a puzzle that when fitted together could inspire the development of an innovative yet refined society.
The ASCO International summit is an initiative that has the possibility to make large strides in the world, especially due to its incorporation of global partnerships that can strengthen its overall goal. Though there was youth participation and representation in the summit, there is room for expansion of African youth perspectives. A big challenge the initiative faced was financial limitations which hindered a large representation of students from different parts of Africa.
The ASCO initiative is a beautiful mission backed by prominent figures in faith such as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. It acknowledges that the world will only continue to make great strides in science and technology. Thus there is a need for these ventures to be guided by the light of faith to avoid moral and societal degradation.
This article was written by Nicole Simiyu.
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