Relics of Blessed Carlo Acutis Are Reminder of ‘a Light That Shines the Way in the Darkness’ in Lebanon
Holy tour traverses the country ahead of Christmas.
BEIRUT — Like a ray of hope piercing through the darkness of crisis-stricken Lebanon, the relics of Blessed Carlo Acutis make their way throughout the country.
Born in 1991, Carlo Acutis is the first millennial to be beatified by the Catholic Church.
The young Italian computer whiz, who died of leukemia at 15, offering his suffering for the Pope and the Church, was beatified in October 2020 at a Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy. He is now one step away from canonization.
Organized by the Mariamite Maronite Order (also known as the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Blessed Carlo’s relics’ tour of Lebanon under the theme of “Carlo Among Us” comes as an atmosphere of despair and weariness clouds the country, which is suffering from a bleeding economic crisis labeled by the World Bank as one of the three worst worldwide since 1850.
According to the United Nations, 78% of Lebanese now live below the poverty line, as compared to less than 30% before the onset of the crisis in late 2019, widely blamed on decades of corruption among Lebanon’s ruling class.
Since that time, the Lebanese pound has lost some 90% of its value against the dollar, leaving many people unable to afford basic necessities. Between October 2019 and September 2021, food prices increased by 1,870%, according to figures from Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics. The government has recently ended subsidy programs for bread, fuel and medicine, striking another blow to the suffering population.
One of Blessed Carlo Acutis’ sayings is especially pertinent for Lebanon, as his relics tour the beleaguered country: “To me, being a Christian is to observe the world and bring my joy, my strength to others.”
The tour of Blessed Carlo Acutis’ relics “is a sign of hope in Lebanon,” said Father Dominique Al-Alam of the Mariamite order.
“As Lebanese people, we have a very special bond with the saints, so his influence is not only for the youth, but for all the Lebanese people, young and old, to give peace, hope and joy for everyone,” Father Al-Alam told the Register.
Mariamite Father Martin Eid organized the tour and is accompanying Blessed Carlo’s relics to parishes, schools, convents and monasteries all over Lebanon. Faithful have been welcoming Blessed Carlo’s holy remains with processions and hymns, showering him with flowers and rice and offering fervent prayers for his intercession. Musical marching bands of youth often greet the future saint.
There have been spontaneous stops, as the Blessed Carlo Acutis motorcade — with a captivating “Blessed Carlo” hymn echoing through loudspeakers — passed through the coastal highway, village roads and the city streets of Beirut. Throngs of astounded people gathered to venerate the sacred relics.
Masses in conjunction with the relics’ visit are offered for different intentions, including for young people, for couples, for vocations and for non-practicing youth.
Father Eid told the Register that in this time of trials in Lebanon, Blessed Carlo’s visit “is a sign from God that God is still present. And it’s a special opportunity for the Lebanese people to show their love to God.”
The confirmation letter from Assisi to the Mariamite order for the relics visit to Lebanon, received on the feast of the birth of the Virgin Mary, Sept. 8, is viewed as providential by Marian order. The arrival of the relics a month later coincided with the first anniversary of the young Italian’s beatification, Oct. 10.
Maronite Father Elie Semaan, parish priest at Resurrection Cathedral in Cornet Chewan, considered the sacred relics’ visit to his parish “a big surprise from God.”
Thursdays are devoted to Eucharistic adoration at Resurrection Cathedral, and that was the day of the week in which a slot was available in the relics’ schedule.
“God managed everything. It was like Blessed Carlo Acutis wanted to visit our parish on this day,” Father Semaan told the Register, noting the future saint’s love of adoration and his quote “The Eucharist is the highway to heaven.”
A Light in the Darkness
With a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, Father Semaan led a reverent procession of the relics into the cathedral.
Parishioners Meryl and Gael Karam came with their mother to venerate the relics.
“He died really young, close to our age,” said 15-year-old Meryl while waiting for the arrival of Blessed Carlo’s relics. “It means a lot to have someone our age who understands us and can inspire us. It gives us the hope that there is hope, even though we are going through a crisis,” she told the Register of the Blessed’s visit to Lebanon. “He is a light that shines the way in the darkness.”
Meryl’s 12-year-old sister, Gael, chimed in, “I can relate to him. He’s our age, and he did the same things as we do, especially with technology.” Gael said she has learned in particular of Christ’s presence from the Blessed Carlo’s example. “Even if we can’t see Jesus, to believe in him. He is with us.”
Michael Sadek, 14, told the Register after visiting Blessed Carlo’s relics at Resurrection Cathedral, “It’s so amazing that he’s a saint at such a young age. It shows that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, you can become a saint. We need faith in good times and in bad.”
The gravity of Lebanon’s crisis is such that, youth in particular, most of whom are highly educated, are leaving their homeland in droves to seek a better future abroad.
Sadek says he hopes Blessed Carlo’s intercession can help save Lebanon, so that “this generation can help Lebanon, and not just leave and go to other countries spreading their knowledge, because Lebanon is a very smart country. I hope he can help our country, to give us a chance to stay here.”
Father Semaan, at 27 years old, is the youngest priest in the Maronite Diocese of Antelias and is in charge of Resurrection Cathedral’s youth ministry. When the parish recently chose to form a separate youth group from its St. Teresa of Kolkata group for 15- to 25-year-olds to better meet the spiritual needs of 15- to 18-year-olds, Carlo Acutis was chosen as its patron.
Father Semaan says that Lebanon’s crisis has prompted deep questions among youth of all ages, such as: “Where is God in this situation?” and “How can we have hope in this dark time?”
Blessed Carlo’s reliquary is modeled after the image of the Eucharist on the tomb of Blessed Carlo. The red base represents the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ and also Blessed Carlo’s signature red polo shirt for which he is known, as illustrated in family photographs.
The tour will continue until around Christmas, by that time visiting some 70 locations throughout Lebanon. Thereafter, Blessed Carlo’s relics will remain at the Mariamite order’s monastery in Zouk-Mosbeh, Lebanon. Depending on demand, ever so strong now, Father Eid said that mini tours of the relics might be organized in Lebanon after the new year.
And Lebanase youth will continue to seek Blessed Carlo’s intercession.
Father Eli said, “In all the pain we are living, with Carlo Acutis, we learn that we can offer our pain for salvation, to turn it into something very beautiful that will help each one of us to become a saint.”
Doreen Abi Raad writes from Beirut, Lebanon