Contagious prayer: Map app tracks viral rosaries during COVID-19 

The Map of Hope is a platform where people post their prayer intentions, and offer a rosary for someone else. (CNA)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNA) -- Like a lot of people, Mike Del Ponte found himself getting upset seeing the daily map updates tracking the spread of COVID-19. So he and a few friends decided to create a different map, tracking a different kind of spread: the spread of prayer and hope. 

Launched on April 28, The Map of Hope is a platform where people post their prayer intentions, and offer a rosary for someone else. Users tag their location, which places a dot on the map. The more people are praying in an area, the bigger the dot grows. In less than a week, The Map of Hope has already charted more than 4,800 prayer intentions, spanning all 50 states and over 130 countries.

The site also contains instructions on how to pray the Rosary, links to live recitations of the Rosary, and information about miracles attributed to the Rosary. 

Del Ponte, who is involved with startups in Silicon Valley, joined up with his friends Joe Kim, Joanna Hernandez, and worked out the details of the website. Kim, who serves as the site’s creative director, is also a design teacher at a Catholic school; and Hernandez handles the administration of the website. 

Del Ponte told CNA on May 1 that he was surprised by how quickly the website grew, considering they had no paid media or advertising for the site, and relied on word of mouth to make people aware of the project. 

“The three of us had this idea, and thought it needed to be given to the word,” he said. “So we put our heads down and launched it on Tuesday.” 

Unlike the popular pandemic-tracking maps, which Del Ponte spread “fear and anxiety” as the disease progressed, he said, The Map of Hope offers a visual that can inspire and reassure people.  

“As serious as the pandemic may be, we knew there was a lot of good in the world,” he said. “So we wanted to build something to give people hope; that’s where the idea came from.” 

The three co-founders selected the Rosary as the prayer intention for this project as it is a “significant and substantial prayer that has been proven in the past to bring about miracles, including stopping plagues,” said Del Ponte. 

There are three goals of The Map of Hope, Del Ponte told CNA. The first, he said, is to spark a sense of hope and community during a time of social distancing. The second, is to increase devotion to the Rosary, and the third is to pray to end the current pandemic. 

The website resembles the pandemic maps published by the New York Times, something Del Ponte said was intentional. 

“We wanted this to really rival the New York Times, in terms of how elegant it is, and the user experience and user engagement,” he said. Kim designed the site, and then an agency in New York built the site pro-bono. 

While the map currently only shows prayer intentions from locations in the United States, Del Ponte told CNA that they plan to update the site to include data from around the world, and to translate the website into Spanish, as they have been receiving many hits from Spanish-speaking countries. 

According to Del Ponte, 60% of visitors to the website are between the ages of 18 and 34, and 70% of all visits are from a mobile device. The relatively young age of the people on the site is exciting, he explained, as many young people do not have a deep devotion to the practice. 

“We really believe that if this generation can restore a devotion to the Rosary, it can change the world,” he said. 

In addition to the map, with its growing dots, the website also contains a prayer feed. This feed is a list of intentions that is updated as new ones are added. Users can “like” someone else’s intention as a show of solidarity. 

“We thought it would be so important that you could see the prayer intentions, the person’s (first) name, and their location,” said Del Ponte. “Our hope is that when someone likes someone else’s prayer, they are praying for that person and their intention.” 

Like many people, Del Ponte himself has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic on a personal level. His wedding, which was scheduled for late April, had to be postponed, and his pastor, the 82-year-old Monsignor John Berry, was diagnosed with the disease. Berry had a “miraculous” recovery and was back in the pulpit in time for Holy Week. 

While The Map of Hope was created to help people cope with the current pandemic, Del Ponte said that the site will continue once the virus is abated. 

“The site in and of itself is really to create a deeper devotion to the Rosary regardless,” he said. 

“If the pandemic ended tomorrow we would continue to post this just to get more people praying the Rosary.”