On a recent trip to Bánica, I had the opportunity to drive across the border and catch a brief glimpse of the difference between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Both countries are poor, but the level of poverty experienced by Haiti is far lower. As Fr. O’Hare put it, “The Dominican Republic is poor. Haiti is destitute.” Every day Haitians pour over the border to sell goods to the better-off Dominicans. “Better-off” is a relative term here. The poor in the DR live in mud and brick houses with tin roofs and no ceilings. Electricity is availbale for about 14 noncontiguous hours a day. Medical care unreliable. Compared to Haiti, however, Dominicans are “middle class.”
Driving into Haiti was like driving into another time. I was reminded of images I’ve seen of American farmworkers living during the dustbowl days of Oklahoma in the 1930′s. Shanty towns abounded. Public works projects sat abandoned. Naked toddlers played along the hot, dusty roads outside the shacks they called home. Bánica has paved streets. I saw no such roads even in the center of the town of Los Cacaos, just across the river in Haiti. There was but one modern amenity that I saw on both sides of the border. It is a technology that many of us in the United States still see as a luxury, or a toy of middle class youth: smart phones.
Cell towers are numerous on Hispañola, the carribean island shared by the two countries. I was amazed to find that my iPhone was never lacking a strong 3G signal even in the most remote campos that I visited. Cell phones and smart phones are no luxury to the poor of Haiti and the DR. They are vital lines of communication between individuals and valuable links to the world beyond their island. Father Andrew Small, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, clearly knew this and brilliantly created Missio, the first smartphone app from the Pontifical Mission Societies. “The app is a way for the church and our Holy Father to reach the growing number of the world’s people who have access to handheld mobile devices, a way to connect as the body of Christ,” he said.
I downloaded the app as soon as I heard about it and I have to say, it surprised me. I thought it would be exclusively about the work of the missions, or a way for people in mission countries to connect with the church for assistance. It’s actually something much simpler and quite profound: a link to the Holy Father. The app is a daily feed of news from Fides, the vatican missionary news service, and News.va. One can access videos of the Pope receiving international leaders or read a summary of the Pope’s homily from that morning’s Mass. Access to these things seems trite and routine for those of us that live in a media saturated world, but when you stop to think that the words of Pope Francis are being read or listened to by residents of remote villages throughout the world within hours or even minutes of his having uttered them, the miracle of modern technology, becomes strkingly clear. The app is available for free download onto Apple and Android devices via the iTunes App Store and Google Play. It is available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Arabic.
God bless Father Small for his foresight in developing this app. God Bless Pope Francis for his enthusiastic embrace of this evangelical medium. And God bless the beneficiaries of this technology to the ends of the earth.