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Ellwood City company brings power of prayer to digital age

| Wednesday, July 8, 2015, 11:48 a.m.
Joseph Bellissimo
Joseph Bellissimo

Growing up in a Catholic family, Joseph Bellissimo said prayer was an essential part of life.

Bellissimo and John Swisher, co-founders of Pray Forward Inc., grew up together in Ellwood City.

Bellissimo said he often noticed via social media if someone was going through a life-changing event, others would offer prayers but would never post anything beyond the word “prayer.”

“I thought ‘this is so generic that people think about praying for somebody, yet they just use the word ‘prayer.''

So I asked a couple of people who posted, ‘why did you just say praying or prayers? Why didn't you say more?'”

The response was generally that people didn't know what to say or do, and felt awkward saying more about how they truly felt.

That is when Bellissimo and Swisher decided to give people a tool to say more, be more specific and get more personal.

Now, instead of just telling someone you'll pray for them, he said you can show them.

“That's just basically how we conceived Share a Prayer,” he said.

The Share a Prayer app launched two days before Christmas and has quickly taken off with more than 9 million monthly visitors and 60 million monthly page views on average, according to Pray It Forward.

Available on iTunes and as a Facebook desktop app, Share a Prayer is pre-loaded with images and prayers.

Users can also upload their own images, add frames and filters, and create their own good wishes to share via text message, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or email.

Bellissimo said the app is being used more than they ever dreamed and has transformed traditional prayer chains.

Users range in age from 15 to 85 and are located in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Swisher's company, Ronin, located in Zelienople, helped develop the app beyond the initial concept.

Marisa Suquet of Ronin said when it came time to start the design, they discussed functionality, the categories, the prayers, the features and how best to deliver the messages.

“Whatever we do, whoever the client is, whatever medium we use, everything we do comes down to telling a story. That's where we start every project,” Suquet said.

They wanted it to feel like a social network, and Bellissimo said the result is almost like a faith network inside a social network.

Beliefnet has called it “a movement” that allows Christians to ‘pray it forward,' sharing prayers and good wishes through text, email and social media.

“It was important to come up with a tool that fit seamlessly into what people were already doing,” Suquet said. “They're already using Facebook, and their iPhone, and this kind of technology. You don't have to go out of your way.”

Bellissimo is an attorney whose holds an undergraduate degree in finance.

He said the presentation and delivery that Ronin came up with “is just phenomenal.”

“It has taken a life all of its own and it doesn't matter the denomination, it doesn't matter what faith you belong to. It is the one faith, the Christian faith that is being shared universally,” Bellissimo said.

Bellissimo said there are other apps out there with inspirational quotes, but the patent- protected and trademarked Share a Prayer allows users to send a specific message.

The app will also incorporate with calendars, sending special notifications and reminders.

A new Spanish version of the app is expected to launch late this summer and Bellissimo said it isn't merely a translation; it captures the power and passion of Spanish prayer.

Bellissimo said there are numerous stories from users he could share. One of his favorites is an email from an 80-year-old man in California that brought him to tears.

The man sent a message to a friend he'd known since they were 7. When his friend turned 80, the man took a picture of them playing together at 10 years old and used that as his background to send a happy birthday message along with a Bible verse. The two now talk once a month.

“Something great happened,” Bellissimo said. “The guy actually picked up the phone and called him and said, ‘hey where did you get this picture?' It changed not just his day, but it brought him closer to his friend. It brought him closer to God.”

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Larissa Dudkiewicz is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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