INDIANAPOLIS (OSV News) — It started with a dream and a conversation.
Paul Hnin dreamed of a way to help nurture the life of prayer and faith of his fellow Hakha Chin Catholics living in the Archdiocese in Indianapolis, in other places around the world, and in his native Myanmar, where they face persecution from a military dictatorship in the southeast Asian country.
Hnin serves the Hakha Chin community as a pastoral associate at St. Barnabas Parish on Indianapolis’ southside. That part of the city has seen an estimated 20,000 people in the ethnic group, many of them Catholic, come to live there in the past 10 to 15 years.
Hnin envisioned a website and app that would have hundreds of pages of Catholic prayers and songs in the Hakha Chin language. Books with this kind of content, Hnin knew, are hard to find in this language and difficult for the people of this Burmese ethnic group to transport as they flee their country for safety and freedom.
“I wanted to create an app so that people could easily
access that information,” Hnin told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. “People in Myanmar have phones, so that would be an easy way to share information with them.”
To make the dream a reality, Hnin had a conversation last summer with Clint Meinerding, a technology teacher and the information technology administrator at St. Barnabas School.
“When Paul came and asked me to make an app, I said that I didn’t know how to do that,” Meinerding recalled. “He said, ‘Well, I’ll say a prayer that you can learn how to do it.’”
Meinerding was able to expand his knowledge of web development, but he soon learned that he couldn’t do this work alone.
“When Paul came to me and explained that there were going to be hundreds and hundreds of songs (on the website and app), I was a bit overwhelmed,” he said. “He started sending me all the stuff and I’m like, ‘I need help.’”
To get that help, Meinerding turned to four St. Barnabas eighth-grade students. They took skills they had learned in Meinerding’s technology classes and went to work on developing pages for the website and app.
They dove headfirst into the project, recalled one of the students, Lauren Koleszar. She and the others worked on the website and app before school and during lunch periods, recesses, and study periods. All told, they put in about 100 hours on making the website and app a reality.
“We’ve done coding in classes,” Koleszar said. “But this was something like real-life coding.”
Koleszar also was motivated to make sacrifices to work on the project for another reason.
“It was really important for me to help out because it’s helping (Hakha Chin) people learn the songs and help them grow closer to God and in their faith,” she said.
“They just went to work,” Meinerding said. “They loved it. I definitely couldn’t have done it without their help.”
The website is up and running at hakkacatholic.com. (While the ordinary spelling of the ethnic group from Myanmar served by the website and app is “Hakha,” the spelling of this web address is correct.) The app version of the website, known as “Hla & Thlacamnak Catholic,” is available for free on Android and Apple devices.
It contains prayers for Mass, hundreds of songs, and other prayers, including those for a “dry Mass,” a prayer service for Catholics in Myanmar who don’t have priests to celebrate Mass for them on a regular basis.
“Honestly, this is probably the most important project I’ve worked on,” Meinerding told The Criterion. “It has a possibility of global ramifications. It’s something that people all over the world can use. It’s very rewarding and satisfying.”
“I hope that people here in America and countries all over the world will use our app to help them to get closer to God,” Hnin said. “It’s amazing to see what Clint and his team have created. I thought that it was possible to make something like this, but it is great to see it happen.”
Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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