Sanctity Knows No Age: Teen Saints Show the Way for Millennials
Two young men proving that holiness can be embodied in youth are Venerable Carlo Acutis and Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio.
“Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium!” Pope St. John Paul II exhorted youth for World Youth Day 2000.
Two teens proving that holiness can be embodied in youth are Venerable Carlo Acutis, who died at age 15, and Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio, who was 19 when he died. Acutis was named “Venerable” July 5, and Blessed Nunzio will be canonized Oct. 14, in conjunction with the planned 2018 Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.
In their short lifetimes, both displayed fervent virtue.
Soon after Acutis was born in London in 1991, his Italian parents, Andrea and Antonia, returned to Milan. He spent his youth and mid-teens in his parents’ homeland, before dying of leukemia Oct. 12, 2006. His canonization cause opened immediately after the mandatory five-year waiting period. By 2016, Milan Cardinal Angelo Scola presided over the close of the diocesan phase of his cause. Buried in Assisi, where a memorial chapel will soon be dedicated to him, Carlo has various miracles attributed to his intercession. The holy young man was exceptionally devoted to Jesus in the Eucharist. In one online video interview, his mother recalled how, after his first Holy Communion, he never missed daily Mass and praying the Rosary, “followed by a moment of Eucharistic adoration.”
She said that “the center of each day was his meeting with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”
During a homily containing his story, Father Joseph Wolfe of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word explained, “When he was only 11 years old, he wrote: ‘The more we receive the Eucharist, the more we’ll become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of heaven.’”
Young Carlo often said, “The Eucharist is my highway to heaven.” That is also the title of his biography, now being translated into English. Carlo asked his parents to take him to the places where Eucharistic miracles had happened, including Rimini, Italy, the site of a Eucharistic miracle that occurred in 1227. Since he wanted everyone to know of miracles to kindle greater love for the Eucharist in the faithful, he began putting together an exhibit that came to be named “The Vatican International Exhibition of the Eucharistic Miracles of the World.”
His mother, who is a curator at the Vatican at the Pontifical Academy Cultorum Martyrum, has explained that Carlo did all of the research, including locating the necessary images and going on more trips with his parents to take photos, to designing the panels with graphics programs. Computers were his forte. The Vatican website for Synod2018.va observes that “Carlo was very gifted with everything related to the world of computers so that both his friends and adults with computer engineering degrees considered him a genius.”
Finished in 2004 and encompassing the 140 officially recognized Eucharistic miracles, Carlo’s exhibition went on display worldwide. “Carlo used to catechize people with Eucharistic miracles,” his mother said in an online video.
“The exhibit expresses his devotion to the Eucharist,” explained Father Stanley Smolenski, director of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina/Our Lady of Joyful Hope in Kingstree, South Carolina, to the Register. The priest is a devotee of the devout young man. “He still is a Eucharistic evangelizer through it.”
The exhibit can be downloaded in more than a dozen languages to print and display. (See MiracoliEucaristici.org in 17 languages; also visit TheRealPresence.org — to request exhibition pdfs to make posters, call 815-254-4420 or send an email to [email protected]; read the companion blog at NCRegister.com.)
Young Carlo (CarloAcutis.com, also CarloAcutis.com/En/Association) next produced more exhibits for international use — “Angels and Demons” and “Paradise, Hell and Purgatory.” He was working on one about the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparitions when he died (his mother completed that exhibit). The year he died he visited Fatima because of his devotion to Mary and Jesus. He liked to say, “To always be close to Jesus, that’s my life plan. I’m happy to die because I’ve lived my life without wasting even a minute of it doing things that wouldn’t have pleased God.”
Nunzio Sulprizio and Carlo Acutis lived 400 miles and 170 years apart, yet both were devoted to the Eucharist and the Rosary. Nunzio died in 1836, and 23 years later, Blessed Pius IX named him “Venerable.” In December 1963, before the bishops of the Vatican Council, Blessed Pope Paul VI beatified the holy young man. Both Nunzio and Paul VI will be canonized the same day during the Synod of Bishops on Young People. During the beatification Mass, Paul VI said Blessed Nunzio teaches the faithful that “the period of youth should not be considered the age of free passions, of inevitable falls, of invincible crises, of decadent pessimism, of harmful selfishness. Rather, he will tell you how being young is a grace.”
Paul VI added, “He will teach you how you, as young people, can regenerate the world in which Providence has called you to live and how it is up to you first to consecrate yourselves for the salvation of a society that needs strong and fearless souls.”
Nunzio was indeed a strong and fearless soul. Born in 1817 and orphaned at age 6, he was sent to live with his grandmother, a faith-filled woman who cared for him until she died when he was 9. Then began a life wracked with intense suffering at the hands of a pitiless, cruel uncle. His uncle took him to work in his blacksmith shop, brutally beating him for no reason, withholding food and sending him on hazardous errands, even delivering orders up a mountainside in the cold and ice.
Seriously ill with a gangrenous foot, Nunzio was forced to work. Yet the young man had the attitude of a saint. One Italian site reports the young teen’s friend was Jesus Crucified, with whom Nunzio offered his sufferings “in reparation for the sins of the world” and “for doing God’s will.” Sunday Mass was his weekly respite. Joy only came from being with Jesus in the tabernacle and praying the Rosary.
“Jesus endured so much for us, and by his merits, eternal life awaits us,” he said. “Jesus suffered a lot for me. Why should I not suffer for him?” He would pray often, “Mother Mary, let me do the will of God.”
Constant pains from his infections brought him to the hospital, where his father’s uncle learned of Nunzio’s plight and brought him to a faith-filled colonel who was inexhaustibly charitable to the poor. Col. Felice Wochinger saw that Nunzio was given constant medical attention in Naples. Nunzio made his first Holy Communion in the hospital and met St. Gaetano Errico, founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who told Nunzio he could enter the order when he was old enough.
Following treatment, Nunzio’s health improved — but not for long. He then suffered from bone cancer, from which he lost a leg and which ultimately proved fatal. In the face of eternity, 19-year-old Nunzio told the colonel, “Be cheerful. From heaven I will always be helping you.”
The disease disappeared from his body when he died; his body was engulfed by the smell of roses. Because of his life experiences, he is considered a patron of abused children and laborers.
Devotion to the soon-to-be saint extends to the United States.
In Pittsburgh, the late Delfina Del Russo Cesarespada learned of Blessed Nunzio the same year as his beatification. She credited Nunzio’s intercession for saving her life during an operation to remove a 10-pound tumor. Her son Peter recounts the story of how his mother had a devotion to Nunzio and prayed for his intercession before the operation. appeared to his mother in a dream, told her she was going to die, but that he would intercede and she would come back to life because “she was going to have to work for him,” Peter told the Register.
Early in 1963, she did indeed die during the operation, pronounced dead by several doctors after her heart stopped beating. They were astonished when, 45 minutes later, she resuscitated. When the parish priest, then Pittsburgh’s Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Bosco learned of it from her, the bishop sent the medical testimony to Rome. It was the miracle used for Nunzio’s beatification in December 1963.
“After that, my mother established a devotion to Nunzio,” said Peter Cesar-Spada. People would gather for a weekly Rosary, and in 1969, his mother turned the first floor of their house into a private chapel and shrine for Blessed Nunzio. People donated statues, crosses and items like canes when they “received miracles and they started walking again,” recounted Peter. Pilgrims came to make novenas and for the annual Mass honoring Blessed Nunzio. They would call or send in prayer requests, and busloads would come from such places as Detroit and Cleveland. His mother hoped one of the healings would lead to Nunzio’s canonization, but she died in 1996. For a time, the shrine was moved to nearby St. Cyril of Alexandria Church. Peter has returned it to the family home, yet it remains under the auspices of the parish (via Facebook at https://bit.ly/2OEX0rf and phone at 412-766-6077; the shrine gladly takes phone calls and letters at 3651 Brighton Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15212).
The shrine is a tribute to the holy teen, who said as he lay dying, while holding a crucifix and looking at a statue of the Blessed Mother, “How beautiful she is!”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.