“To always be close to Jesus, that’s my life plan”
As early as age 4, Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991 - 2006) became an example of faith for his mother, a nominal Catholic who had attended Mass only rarely. Walking together past their parish church, Carlo would ask to go inside to blow kisses to Jesus in the tabernacle. Today, fully invested in the faith, Carlo’s mother calls him her savior; the faith lives and breathes in both his parents.
Carlo Acutis is the first millennial to be named Blessed, one step below canonized sainthood. His ceremony of beatification, on October 10, 2020, was celebrated at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. For several weeks, his tomb was opened; many venerated his body, clad in typical teenage attire -- jeans, hoodie, sneakers -- and holding a rosary.
Carlo was born in London; his family moved to Milan during his first year. Growing up, he appeared like most boys: lover of pets and sports; Pokémon and music; friends and travel. He was kind, fun-loving, and approachable.
Setting Carlo apart, though, was his deeply devout spiritual life based upon twin pillars: the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus (“my highway to heaven”), and the Virgin Mary (“the only woman in my life”).
Carlo wove the faith into his life through daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration; prayer, especially the rosary; regular confession and spiritual direction; and evangelizing wherever possible; for example, as a catechetical aide, helping to pass on the faith, from age 11.
Carlo also found many ways to reach out to those less fortunate. Homeless people received sleeping bags, bought with his allowance, and freshly cooked meals; just as important, he spent time listening to them. Missions and soup kitchens benefited from donations of money and his time. Carlo was particularly sensitive to the plight of immigrants. Many of the marginalized, in whose faces he saw Jesus, attended his funeral Mass.
Carlo was a young child when information technology made its world-changing entrance onto the scene. Highly intelligent and accomplished, he quickly taught himself to master technology and put it to work for good.
The dangers posed by modern technology, especially to young people, are widespread and insidious. In his 2015 Apostolic Exhortation entitled Christus Vivit, Pope Francis praised Carlo as an example to the young. He “knew how to use the new communications technology to transmit the Gospel, to communicate values and beauty.”
Beginning at age 11, Carlo put technology to work on a personal project destined for world-wide exposure. Through his deep love for the Eucharist, he painstakingly researched and catalogued numerous Church-approved Eucharistic miracles. Carlo posted the results on a self-designed website, and an exhibition illustrating these miracles, also self-designed, traveled to many locations world-wide. These posters are available on his website (www.carloacutis.com) to download free for personal and parish use.
In 2006, Carlo began a similar project illustrating apparitions of Our Lady. He died before he could finish this work, but others took it on, and it was completed in 2014.
Carlo’s untimely death from leukemia came on October 12, 2006. In his pain-filled final days, he voiced concern for his caregivers and family members keeping vigil. He received Anointing of the Sick and said, “I offer my suffering for the Pope and the Church; I want to go straight to heaven.”
Francis of Assisi was numbered among Carlo’s favorite saints. His family had begun to vacation in Assisi at his request; according to his mother, Carlo was happiest there. The similarities between Carlo and Francis -- growing up in well-to-do families yet consumed with love for Jesus in the Eucharist -- are inescapable: shared affinity for the poor and marginalized; joyful humility; love for Our Lady, the Church, and creation.
Obviously, Carlo had absorbed much of Franciscan spirituality. This quote of his -- “The more we receive the Eucharist, the more similar we become to Jesus, giving us on this earth a foretaste of heaven” -- quite easily could have come from the lips of Francis.
Not surprisingly, Carlo asked to be placed to rest in Assisi. His tomb stands in the Church of Saint Mary Major’s Shrine of the Renunciation, which depicts Francis’ shedding of his worldly clothes -- and his former life -- to assume one of poverty and humility as God had ordained.
Domenico Sorrentino, Bishop of Assisi, writes: “Carlo Acutis is an invitation. An invitation addressed to everyone, especially the young, not to waste life, but rather to make of it a masterpiece. Only God makes us capable of this. ‘Not I, but God’: this is the winning formula of the young Blessed. The only formula -- to quote his own words -- that makes us ‘original,’ and not ‘photocopies.’”
Carlo was not enslaved by technology; rather, he embraced and mastered it to promote the loftiest spiritual aspirations. It is through this very medium that, from his place in heaven, he continues to impact the world through his apostolate of evangelization.
We conclude our glimpse into the brief life of a saintly teenager, shining as a beacon of hope for our Church and for the world, as Carlo would have us do, with prayer:
O God our Father, we thank you for giving us Carlo, a model of life for young people, and a message of love for all.
You made him fall in love with your Son Jesus, making the Eucharist his “highway to heaven.” You gave him Mary as a beloved mother,
and you made him, through the Rosary, a cantor of her tenderness. Receive his prayer for us. Look above all upon the poor, whom he loved and assisted.
Grant me too, through his intercession, the grace that I need (mention your intention). And make our joy full, raising Carlo among the saints of your Church, so that his smile shines again for us to the glory of your name. Amen.
Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.