The Word Among Us

June 2021 Issue

One of God’s Originals

The Story of Blessed Carlo Acutis

By: Bob French

One of God’s Originals: The Story of Blessed Carlo Acutis by Bob French

As we all know, our world is becoming increasingly connected through social media and other uses of the internet. And while electronic connections can’t substitute for genuine relationships, there is much benefit to be gained from these technologies. If we use them wisely, they can become tools to build us up and nourish our faith.

Someone who understood this well was Blessed Carlo Acutis, a young man from Milan, Italy, who died in 2006 at the age of fifteen. In 2018, he was declared Venerable by Pope Francis, and in February 2019, a miracle was approved for his beatification, which took place in Assisi last October. Carlo was very much a child of the modern world as well as a child of God. He had an extraordinary talent for technology—and he used that talent to spread the gospel by creating a website and exhibition that has touched millions.

Still Carlo was an ordinary teenager in many ways. He enjoyed Pokémon and had a PlayStation gaming console. He had four dogs, two cats, and several goldfish. He played soccer, skied, and loved to ride his bicycle. But he was also very different from others his age—and not just for the sake of being different. “We are all born as originals,” he would say, “and yet many people die as photocopies.” Carlo’s short life was a testament to living as an “original,” an authentic witness to Christ.

An Extraordinary Faith. Carlo Acutis was born in London, England, on May 3, 1991. His parents, Andrea and Antonia, who soon returned to their home in Milan, had him baptized Catholic. However, his mother hardly went to church and his father had little time for him. So it is remarkable that Carlo developed a deep love for God so early on. His mother recalls that even at a young age, Carlo would often ask to stop at church to pray in front of the tabernacle.

Where did Carlo get this desire for God? Some speculate that it was the family’s Polish nanny who may have told him about Jesus. Whatever the case, Antonia says she was “perplexed by his devotion. He was so small and so sure.”

At the center of Carlo’s devotion was the Eucharist, which he called his “highway to heaven.” From the time of his First Communion at age seven, he never missed daily Mass and always spent some time before or after Mass praying before the Blessed Sacrament. As he grew into an adolescent, his devotion deepened. He told his mother that when he was in front of the tabernacle, he felt “elevated . . . like being in front of a source that took his soul to great heights.”

Antonia believes that Carlo was given special graces to have such a strong faith. But Carlo also nurtured what he received. He was very intentional in his desire for holiness. “You must want [holiness] with all your heart,” he wrote, “and if this desire has not arisen in your heart, you must ask for it with insistence from the Lord.”

“Carlo wasn’t born a saint, but he worked hard at it,” said biographer Nicola Gori. To his practice of daily Mass and Adoration, he added the daily Rosary, Scripture reading, and weekly Confession. “What does it matter if you can win a thousand battles,” he would ask, “if you cannot win against your own corrupt passions?”

The Gift of Evangelization. Carlo was a naturally friendly boy—so friendly that his parents didn’t always want to walk around with him. He would talk to everyone: doormen, janitors, and people of all nationalities. This outgoing nature of his paired well with a strong desire to evangelize, with a friendly approach.

Said Antonia, “Many people today, who are within the Church, they have a way of disturbing others; overbearing, often not knowing when it is a good moment to evangelize, or how to speak. With Carlo, he was really balanced. . . . He understood how to attract people.” True to this description, Carlo often reminded those around him that “conversion is nothing more than shifting our gaze upwards. A simple movement of the eyes is enough.”

Carlo’s evangelistic spirit was often reflected in acts of charity. He would gather food, hot beverages, blankets, and even sleeping bags for Milan’s homeless. He volunteered to feed the hungry at the Caritas Cafeteria in Milan. At the high school he entered in 2005, Leo XIII Institute, he would defend students who were being bullied. Occasionally, he invited children whose parents were going through a divorce for a sleepover at his house.

Carlo recognized that charity also means speaking the truth at times. He would warn his classmates of the dangers of pornography and tell them that their bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit. During one class debate on abortion, Carlo was the only student to oppose it. Fr. Roberto Gazzaniga, a former spiritual director and school pastor at Leo XIII, once remarked, “How many times as a priest and officer of youth pastoral care I exulted in seeing and hearing Carlo . . . and his positive influence on his friends. And even more so now, he is like the seed that falls on to the soil and produces the fruit of life. They can hold him up and say: here is a young man and a Christian who is happy and authentic.”

Tech Whiz. If there was one thing Carlo was known for besides his outgoing personality, it was his skill with computers. At around the age of nine, he taught himself to code using a university-level textbook. According to his mother, he could teach himself just about any program.

Just as any typical boy would, he had fun with computers. He did voice-overs for videos of his dogs and made his own version of the well-known opening scene from Star Wars. But Carlo dedicated most of his computer time to something much more serious. In 2002, he decided to develop a virtual exhibition on Eucharistic miracles. He wanted to offer people tangible evidence for their faith. “Many men seek signs from heaven to strengthen their faith, but many, unfortunately, don’t even look for them,” he wrote.

So Carlo asked his parents to take him to as many sites of these miracles as possible. He photographed and catalogued them, and four years later had developed a website to display his results. This website was the genesis of the Eucharistic Miracles of the World exhibition, which has toured five continents and been shown in thousands of parishes. If that wasn’t enough, Carlo also created websites on heaven, hell, purgatory, the guardian angels, and the Virgin Mary, which can still be viewed today.

“I Haven’t Wasted Even a Minute.” But Carlo would not live to see the full impact of his work. In October 2006, he was hospitalized with acute leukemia. He told his mother he knew he would not leave the hospital and offered his suffering for the pope and the Church. “I can die happy,” he told her, “because I haven’t wasted even a minute on things that aren’t pleasing to God.”

Carlo died on October 12, 2006. At his funeral, it became clear that he had been much more than a teenager with a knack for computers. According to Nicola Gori, many poor people came to his funeral. “Everyone wondered what they were doing there. It was because Carlo had secretly been helping them. . . . And that’s why they felt they needed to attend the funeral.”

Not only those who knew Carlo but many who never met him have been influenced by his life. One boy wrote on his blog, “After having heard his story, it was impossible not to ask myself questions about how I am living my faith in life, especially since, with Carlo, we don’t have the excuse of referring to some distant figure in the past.” Prayer groups devoted to him have sprung up around the world, and Facebook has dozens of pages from groups dedicated to him.

What can we learn from Carlo’s life? That each of us can be our own “original,” just as he was. We don’t have to become computer experts or play video games. We don’t even have to become experts on Eucharistic miracles. But we can find ways to glorify and serve God through the talents and gifts he has given us. By doing this, we will play an important role in bringing other people to faith in Christ.

Bob French writes from Silver Spring, Maryland.