Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who died in 2006, used to love to say, “All of us are born as originals, but many of us die as photocopies.”
Acutis’ beatification ceremony — to be held in Assisi on Oct. 10 — will show the world the originality of this boy who died at just 15.
Born in 1991 in London, Carlo moved to Milan shortly thereafter. As the only child of a well-to-do and doting family, he enjoyed friends, pets, access to travel and wealth. Carlo also loved karate, skiing, basketball, canoeing and walking his dogs. He had his own personal computer and became skilled at computer programming and videography.
Yet Carlo was different in one major aspect: His love for God was boundless.
“We already saw that Carlo, from the age of 4 was very special. He was generous, obedient and docile,” his mother, Antonia Acutis, told the Register. “But he developed a devotion to Jesus very young, such that he wanted to enter every church we walked in front of.”
This devotion to Catholicism did not come from his parents, who were not practicing Catholics when Carlo was born. His mother readily admits that by the time Carlo was born, she had been to Mass three times in her life. Carlo seems to have been introduced to Jesus by a Polish nanny and his nursery school.
Immediately, Carlo began asking his parents deep questions about God that they could not answer.
“He pushed me to do research and to read. I began to take theology courses and reflect on life. I discovered the beauty of my faith. We are all on a journey in the spiritual life, but because of Carlo, I was inspired to start that journey,” said his mother. “Carlo saved me.”
Carlo asked for special permission to receive his first Communion at the age of 7; and from that day until he died, Carlo never missed going to daily Mass. He prayed the Rosary every day and took part in Eucharistic adoration.
“He read the Bible every day as well as the Catechism put together by Pope John Paul II. Carlo would say that the Bible was his compass. By the age of 11, he was teaching catechism to younger children,” she said.
In 1998, Carlo became fascinated with computer programming.
“He begged me to find him books on programming, so I bought him textbooks from the Polytechnique University of Milan on C++. He learned how to code in several languages. He taught himself everything, including 3-D animation,” she said. “It was unbelievable.” He also learned Java, Adobe and Photoshop.
Once he mastered computer programming, Carlo began to use it to spread the Catholic faith. He developed a website on Eucharistic miracles, which he worked on for four years. The website has a compilation of 196 stories of Eucharistic miracles. It has been turned into an exhibit that has traveled the world.
Carlo also developed exhibits on the Virgin Mary, purgatory and angels and demons. He created websites for his Milan parish and for local Jesuits to encourage volunteers.
“Carlo understood that the internet can be used as an atomic bomb for good, but it can also be used for bad, to diminish the human person,” said Antonia.
Carlo believed that the internet could claim a kind of “tyranny” over the soul and become an addiction. He always had a sense that he couldn’t waste time and imposed on himself that he could only play on his PlayStation one hour per week.
He believed that sadness came when people turned into themselves and that happiness came when they turned toward God.
“He always lived in the presence of God. For Carlo, it was strange for people to put their own pictures on the internet. God had to be in first place. He never wanted to put himself on a pedestal,” said Antonia.
In fact, when his “Eucharistic Miracles” exhibit went to the Vatican, Carlo insisted that his name not be put on the exhibit.
“Carlo always thought it was strange that people could wait on long lines to get concert tickets, but then in front of the tabernacle — where Jesus is present — churches are empty. Carlo was upset about this,” she said.
“He prayed a lot for sinners, for their salvation. He was always making sacrifices — saying No to desserts, No to video games or films. He would meditate on hell, saying, ‘Do people realize what it would be like to be in hell forever? The battle is with ourselves. We have to fight to get better,’” she said.
As a devotee of St. Francis of Assisi, Carlo had a great sensitivity toward the poor.
“During the winter, it gets very cold here. He would go out to bring food and hot liquids to the homeless. With his weekly allowance, he bought covers and sleeping bags for them,” recalled his mother.
Carlo had many friends at school. He helped others with their homework, especially if they needed assistance on their computers. He looked out for kids who were bullied and tried to be close to those whose parents were divorcing. Whenever he saw difficulties, he would try to get involved.
“Everybody loved him. He had an extraordinary personality,” said Antonia.
When Carlo was 15 years old, the family received the shock of their life when he was diagnosed with acute leukemia, which would kill him in three days. Sensing his impending death, he told his parents that he was offering up all his suffering for the Pope and the Church.
His sudden death sent shockwaves through his family, school and community.
“There were so many people at the funeral whom his parents did not know,” said Nicola Gori, postulator for Carlo’s cause of canonization.
The funeral was packed with people overflowing into the streets of Milan. Well-dressed teenagers from Carlo’s Jesuit high school mixed with homeless people and countless foreign doormen, including people of other faiths. These were people his parents never even knew Carlo had befriended on his way home from school every day.
“Immediately after his death, a hurricane began,” said Gori, in reference to the surge of people calling for Carlo’s sainthood immediately, with tremendous force like a hurricane.
Miracles associated with Carlo happened right away. One woman, age 45, who had not been able to conceive children for years, became pregnant the week after the funeral. Another woman was cured of cancer at the funeral.
His school mates immediately took part in the first biography about Carlo.
“There have been hundreds of miracles, graces and favors,” said Antonia. “There have also been many spiritual conversions.”
The miracle accepted by the Vatican for Carlo’s beatification was of a Brazilian boy born with a rare congenital anatomic anomaly of the pancreas, which made him unable to eat solid food. The boy’s pastor announced a novena to Carlo in 2013.
“The pastor had each person approach the altar and publicly state what they were praying for. This little boy said he did not want to vomit anymore. Three days later, the boy realized he could eat solid foods. When the doctors examined his pancreas, they realized it had been perfectly healed,” said Gori.
Prayer groups have formed around Carlo Acutis all over the world: in India, the United States, Afghanistan, Europe, Australia and Vietnam.
“You can really see the hand of God in this because it would have been impossible for us to do all of this. It all happened on its own. Many people have come back to the faith through the exhibits and learning about Carlo,” said Antonia.
Carlo’s burial place is in Assisi, which has seen an increase of thousands of visitors just to visit his tomb, besides the tomb of St. Francis.
“The beauty of Carlo’s witness is that he was a child of our time. He was a holy person in the digital age. He was open to life in all its dimensions: with his studies, sports and computer programming. At the same time, he put together a daily life centered on his faith,” said Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi.
Archbishop Sorrentino frequently speaks about Carlo Acutis and St. Francis of Assisi as two very original yet similar people. He has written a book on this subject entitled Original, Not Photocopies: Carlo Acutis and Francis of Assisi, to be published by Catholic Truth Society Publications in July.
“Many times, young people leave the faith because they don’t see the relevance of practicing in the world today. But Carlo Acutis was very actual. All of us would be very original if we respond to our roots in God. We are made in his image. The more we conform to Christ, the more profoundly we become ourselves. We must all become saints, which will render us original,” said Archbishop Sorrentino.
“Whenever I speak about Carlo to young people, it leaves them shocked. It touches them because they realize they can do this, too.”
Register correspondent Sabrina Arena Ferrisi writes from New York.