The Internet sometimes seems to have been specially designed to distract our children and lead them astray. However, for the youngster who so confidently said he hadn’t wasted any of his life doing things that wouldn’t have pleased God, the Internet was a source of good, the computer a device not only enabling him to encounter Christ but to introduce Him to others–teenagers searching for some meaning in their lives and finding it with the help of a contemporary-a kid, just like them.
Only Carlo Acutis wasn’t quite like them. He died at the age of 15, happy at the thought of not having wasted a minute. Now, he is on the road to sainthood.
Children have, of course, been made saints of the Catholic Church for centuries. Some are better known to the world than others, such as Francisco and Jacinta Marto who witnessed apparitions near Fatima in Portugal in the early 20th century and were canonized by Pope Francis in 2017.
Now this new youngster is on the way to sainthood and, perhaps because of his Internet skills, is already known internationally and acknowledged in shrines worldwide. The Blessed Carlo Acutis was just 15 when he died from leukemia in 2006. Beatified in October 2020, it seems he could be the first saint with 21st-century skills.
A MIRACLE OF HEALING
Certainly, it was the Internet that enabled the miracle that was recognized by the Vatican’s Medical Council of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The miracle took place on the other side of the world in Brazil where a mother, because of her Internet searches, learned of him and asked for the intercession of Carlos Acutis on behalf of her sick son, Mattheus.
Mattheus suffered from a severe pancreatic condition that made eating difficult. His mother, Luciana Vianna, asked Carlo to intercede and then took Mattheus to a prayer service. When they went home, Mattheus was able to eat. His condition was cured. The miracle led to the beatification of his fellow teenager who had lived so far away but connected so powerfully with the world during his time on earth and has continued to do so.
CARLO’S LIFE AND FAITH
Carlo was born in London in 1991. Although his parents–Andrea Acutis and Antonia Salzano–were not a religious couple, they had their child baptized 15 days after his birth, on 18 May, in the church of Our Lady of Dolours in up-market Chelsea. In September of that year, the well-off couple took the new addition to their family back to their native Italy, where they lived in Milan.
Antonia’s father died in 1995, and the four-year-old Carlo said he dreamed his grandfather asked him to pray for him. He began to show an interest in the Church, and his Polish babysitter nurtured that curiosity. By age seven, he was asking if he could receive First Holy Communion. The family organized instruction, and then he was granted his wish at the convent of Sant’Ambrogio ad Nemus.
It wasn’t long before he attended daily Mass and made a weekly confession. He made his role models St. Francis of Assisi, as well as the children who had become saints: Francisco and Jacinta Marto (the two Portuguese children who saw the apparitions at Fatima), St. Dominic Savio, who died at the age of 14 and was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954, and St. Bernadette Soubirous (the teenager who saw visions of Our Lady in Lourdes) who was canonized on 8 December 1933. It was almost as if Carlos knew that he would join these children.
DIGITAL SKILLS FOR EVANGELIZATION
He played the computer games of his day, but his computer skills seemed to go way beyond those of his peers. With the skills he displayed, he might have been headed towards being a Mark Zuckerberg, a Bill Gates, or a Steve Jobs. Instead of writing codes that would make millions, however, Carlo created a website that cataloged every Eucharistic miracle in the world. In the Catholic Church, these usually consist of inexplicable phenomena, with consecrated Hosts changing into human tissue, surviving disasters such as fire, or items lasting for decades or even centuries.
The Church has recognized many Eucharistic miracles, and Carlo began his task at the age of eleven, completing it with a record of more than 130 in 2005. That catalog of the Eucharistic miracles has become a travelling exhibition, organized by Bishop Raffaello Martinelli and Bishop Angelo Comastri. They have enabled it to travel the world as an inspiration not only to young people but also to us all. Statues, memorials, and even new parishes have been established in Carlo’s memory in different parts of the world.
He also used his website to evangelize, following the intention of the Society of St. Paul to use all forms of media to this end. Carlo’s website has been translated into 18 languages, and whether you live in Italy, Brazil or South Africa, you can access it, and there’s a biography of the Blessed Carlo by Nicola Gori.
We could say he wasn’t your average schoolboy in other ways. When his friends were bullied, he stood up to the bullies. When his friends were going through difficult times–perhaps the death of a relative or a divorce in the family–he would bring them home for comfort and advice.
ILLNESS LEADING TO DEATH
Then he suffered a difficult time himself. A year after he had completed that catalog of Eucharistic miracles, Carlo passed away. The 15-year-old had developed leukemia, the blood cancer that can lead to a painful death. Patients bleed and bruise more quickly due to the low levels of platelets (clot-forming cells) in the blood, and they are more vulnerable to severe internal bleeding. Carlo would have been breathless and excessively tired, open to all sorts of infections.
He said to his mother at the start of his hospitalization that he wouldn’t be going home, but he told anyone who asked how he was, “There are people who suffer more than I do.”
His mother, Antonia, has written a book about Carlos, My son Carlo: Carlo Acutis through the eyes of his mother, and in an interview in Aleteia, she said that even as a child, Carlo would say that he would always stay young. More remarkably, he said as a child that he would die “because a vein in his brain would break.” This is, in fact, what happened.
READY FOR HEAVEN
It is, however, the sanctity of the boy that makes him different. Antonia said, “Carlo was ready and ripe for Heaven. He was a boy of perfect and upright life, extraordinary purity, generosity, goodness. We’ve never doubted that he’s already in Heaven.”
She also shared in a statement given to the media before her book’s launch, “This was his secret: he had a constant, intimate relationship with Jesus. He wanted everyone he encountered to have this kind of relationship as he did. He did not consider it to be something just for him. He was convinced that this relationship was accessible to all.”
Carlo’s illness was so aggressive that it lasted just a few days. Carlo’s influence and inspiration continue to grow. If you go to Assisi, home of St. Francis of Assisi, who was one of his great role models, you will see crowds queuing to go past the Blessed Carlo’s relics, which are on display at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. It has been that way since 10 October 2020, when the beatification ceremony took place.
DEVOTION TO THE HOLY EUCHARIST
Carlo called the Eucharist the “highway to heaven” and his persistence transformed not only the lives of his parents, who gradually came to share his faith if not his fervor, but so many others who were and are strangers to him.
He had found his experience of his First Holy Communion overpowering, and his commitment to daily Mass wasn’t some goody-goody parading of his faith but a joyous start to his day. His prayer after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, “Jesus, come right in! Make yourself at home!” is one we might all adopt to help us not only understand but to get so much closer to Jesus. His inspirational idea that when “you face the sun you get a tan but when you stand in front of Jesus in the Eucharist you become saints”, is undoubtedly one to mull over and share.
“To be always united with Jesus, this is my life plan.” A boy’s plan: a boy for whom it would seem that the “highway to heaven” was already keyed into his satnav at birth. Let’s never forget that the Kingdom of Heaven is made of children like Carlo and that our common home would be so much better if we were fired by his conviction.