Francesco Valsecchi poses for a photo next to the yellow and white flag of Vatican City State on Clipperton Island Jan. 26, 2024. Valsecchi and more than a dozen others traveled to this desolate coral atoll in the eastern Pacific Ocean as part of an international expedition for long distance amateur radio operators and listeners. (CNS photo/courtesy of Francesco Valsecchi)

Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — For the last two weeks of January, the Vatican City State flag flapped in the strong sea breeze on Clipperton Island, one of the most isolated islands in the world.

Francesco Valsecchi, an Italian who operates the amateur radio call sign of Vatican City, HV0A, brought the flag. It was the first time the Vatican flag has ever been unfurled on such a mission, and the first time Vatican City made radio contact with the island.

Valsecchi and more than a dozen others traveled to the desolate coral atoll in the eastern Pacific Ocean as part of an international expedition for long-distance amateur radio operators and listeners.

Known as DXing, hobbyists seek to receive and identify distant radio signals or make two-way radio contact with distant stations.

There are 340 distinct “entities” all over the world, mostly independent countries and geographically separate islands. And the pinnacle of DXing is receiving confirmed contact with all 340 of those entities, earning a coveted place on the #1 Honor Roll.

Some entities are harder to contact than others: they are uninhabited islands and territories that are difficult to reach; they are environmentally protected or have access restrictions; or there are few radio amateur operators and those few are rarely on the air.

Clipperton Island is 37th on the DX “most wanted” list and contact requires an expedition of outside radio operators who spend months preparing. The last DX-peditions there were in 2013, 2008 and 2000.

The current crew from seven countries left San Diego, California, Jan. 11 and spent eight days traveling by boat over rough seas to the island and another two days setting up a temporary camp onsite with generators, antennas and other specialized equipment in order to send and receive radio signals.

They erected two wooden posts in the hard coral fragments to hoist their nations’ flags — the large yellow and white Vatican flag fluttered below Tajikistan’s.

Valsecchi told Vatican News Jan. 24, that of the thousands of amateur radio operators that contacted TX5S — the temporary call signal from the island — one included Vatican City. The crew’s signal was received from inside the Vatican’s Marconi Building, a historic building where the inventor of the first successful wireless telegraph and radio, Guglielmo Marconi, had established the city state’s radio-telegraph station.

The crew spent seven days sending and receiving signals on the island and was to begin breaking down the camp Jan. 27 for a Jan. 29 departure back to San Diego.

Valsecchi told Catholic News Service over email and WhatsApp that he was still planning to plant a nano version of Pope Francis’ book, “Why Are You Afraid? Have You No Faith?” somewhere on the 3.4 square-mile island.

The book, which encapsulates Pope Francis’ message of hope for humanity in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, has been released in multiple formats. The nano version, about the size of the tip of a crayon, has also been shot into the Earth’s orbit embedded inside a small satellite with the pope’s words transmitted back to earth each day for ham radio reception.

Valsecchi holds the #1 Honor Roll and was inducted into the “The CQ DX Hall of Fame” in 2021 for his important contributions to DXing and DX-peditions.

He has been regularly operating the Vatican City call sign, HV0A, for more than 30 years as well as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta’s call sign, 1A0KM. Along with other operators, Valsecchi has logged more than 300,000 contacts from these two highly sought-after entities for amateur radio operators around the world, according to CQ Amatuer Radio magazine.