Not all saints and blesseds died centuries ago. Meet Blessed Carlo Acutis, a teen who combined devotion to the Eucharist with a passion for computer technology.
One crisp morning, the sun rises over the precipice of the mountaintops, painting the horizon with pastel purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows. As the dawn blankets the valley, pilgrims set out down an alley of stairs only to twist and take another flight entering into the time capsule of this medieval city on a hill. A cacophony of the larks dancing above singing their morning praises, brakes of small trucks delivering fresh ingredients, and the clomping of rubber soles on the pink Monte Subasio stone overwhelm the senses, reminding us that this holy town still functions in contemporary times.
Our group descends to our primary stop, one of the minor basilicas of Assisi. We walk inside the arched, ancient doorway to be met by centuries-old pews, earthquake-shattered frescoes, and simple masonry. As we visualize the scene of St. Clare that took place in this basilica, I catch a glimpse of a new shrine in the side aisle. There stands a sign that reads: “Carlo Acutis.”
I break away from the group to take a quick peek and grab a brochure. I feel the Spirit begin to weave Carlo’s story into mine.
Carlo Acutis was born May 3, 1991, in London. Shortly after his birth, his family moved back to northern Italy. Carlo grew up in what most people would consider a normal family. His parents worked, he went to school, and they lived life in the modern world. Carlo had several pets, played soccer, went snow skiing, loved movies, and played video games.
His life drastically changed in June of 1998. He greatly anticipated his first Communion because the Eucharist was the center of his life, and he wanted to fully participate. This occasion left an indelible imprint on Carlo’s soul. He was always drawn to Christ. His mother, Antonia, remembers that when he was little, he could not pass a church without stopping in to greet Jesus in the tabernacle, and that continued into his adolescence. His parents were Catholic but had ceased going to Mass. Carlo changed that because he knew the significance of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist was to Carlo as fuel is to a Ferrari. Without fuel, without tires, without a steering wheel, a Ferrari cannot function. Without adoration, without Mass, without prayer, Carlo could not function. He never missed Mass because he was completely captivated by the sacrificial lamb on the altar. Carlo’s soul burned to tap into this timeless grace. His eucharistic drive was contagious.
As Carlo grew into his preteen and teenage years, his schedule was chock-full of classes, homework, social events, sports practices and games, music, video games, serving in his community, Sunday dinners with family, and chores. He went to the movies, shopped with his friends, and relished the treat of gelato; however, he stood out from the crowd. Carlo limited his video game time to one hour a week so the games would not distract his mind to worry solely about temporal things. Francesco Occhetta writes in Carlo Acutis, the Servant of God: Beyond the Border that Carlo said, “They’ll stand in line for hours to go to a concert but won’t stay even a moment before the tabernacle.” After his first Communion, the Eucharist opened a portal inside of Carlo that only the Eucharist could pass through, and he dedicated his life to it.
His Mission Begins
In the early 2000s, the Internet was becoming more popular, but programming, coding, building websites, and blogging were left to the professionals because they were so complicated. Carlo dove in to master this new tool, and he applied his newfound knowledge and skills to updating and building new websites for his parish and his school. He saw the Internet as a vessel to draw attention to the faith and ultimately to the Eucharist.
As Occhetta reports, Pier Luigi Imbrighi, the secretariat of the Pontifical Academy of the Martyrs, said that Carlo “was an extraordinary expert, aiding us with great readiness to help and dedication in the creation of our website on vatican.va.” Carlo helped them promote programs for volunteers through online advertising. People in the technology world and in the Catholic sphere began to recognize Carlo as a technology protégé. He simply desired to use computers for the good.
Greg Friedman, OFM, talks about the legacy of Blessed Carlo Acutis.
Being a catechist, wanting to dive deeper in knowledge, and using the Internet more and more as a resource, Carlo began investigating eucharistic miracles. These physical phenomena struck his heart, and he could not contain his joy. He decided to create an exhibition to virtually display different eucharistic miracles for a wide audience.
He convinced his parents to take their family vacations over two and a half years to the sites where eucharistic miracles had taken place. He took along a camera, a camcorder, and paper to note every detail of the prayerful spaces. Carlo started from ground zero to build his exhibit website by physically traveling to the towns to take his own pictures, record his own experience, and report the stories on the plaques. Most of all, Carlo and his family spent their travels together in copious amounts of individual and communal prayer before hosts that had turned to blood, hosts that were stolen and miraculously reappeared in the church, hosts that had converted thousands of souls before him. He knelt in the divots of the hundreds-of-years-old kneelers and poured out his life before the monstrance.
Carlo’s story changed the moment he stepped into the chapel of Orvieto, where the corporal cloth stained with the blood of Christ is exposed for veneration. His heart converted again when he knelt before the host turned flesh of the heart and wine turned type-AB blood in Lanciano. Carlo would have encountered physically taxing days with long walks between sites, time changes, different routines, and the like; however, the eucharistic miracles provided him an energy so strong because they were becoming part of his very fiber.
Carlo realized that we are walking with Christ, but we are also walking each other home. Carlo’s gait on his path of discipleship was propelled by the Eucharist. Spending time with Jesus in the sacrament allowed him an opportunity to pause, to breathe, to listen. He possessed a keen awareness that time with Jesus is the only way to receive life. Silence and solitude before the host became a sign of life for him. His love for the Eucharist, his pilgrimage journey, and his skill for technology merged into a single lane; here his mission was born.
He initiated a blog about his family’s adventures. Word got around about Carlo’s website, and he was asked to display physical copies of the information and pictures at a church in Rome. From 17 different countries, he meticulously organized 142 detailed panels. His love for the Eucharist motivated him to capture the miracles in words and images. In return, others were enthralled and transformed.
A Life Cut Short
Carlo fell ill in October of 2006 amid his exhibition progress, technology projects, high school education, and life as a teen. His parents took him to the doctor with flu-like symptoms, and the test results came back as advanced leukemia. Despite the gravity of his diagnosis, Carlo took the news with grace by keeping Christ the top priority, and he offered everything up for the pope, the Church, and his direct entry into heaven.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote: “It’s true, I suffer a great deal—but do I suffer well? That is the question.” Carlo, despite the pains of cancer, suffered gently. He always thanked those around him and kept a positive spirit. He made sure that family members were taken care of. Occhetta reports that Carlo once said, “All people are born as originals, but many people die as photocopies.” Carlo retained his originality.
Father Sandro Villa, the hospital chaplain, visited Carlo the day before he slipped into a coma. Courtney Mares, a journalist for Catholic News Service, interviewed Carlo’s doctors and chaplain for her article “Blessed Carlo Acutis’ Doctor Recalls His Last Days in the Hospital.”
In many ways, Carlo Acutis was a typical kid. But in matters of faith, he shone. The Eucharist, in fact, was to Carlo as fuel is to a Ferrari. Without fuel, without tires, without a steering wheel, a Ferrari cannot function.
She wrote that Father Villa described his one encounter with Carlo: “I was amazed by the composure and devotion with which, albeit with difficulty, he received the two sacraments. He seemed to have been waiting for them and felt the need for them.” Even on his final full day on earth, Carlo’s heart belonged to Christ in the Eucharist. Father Villa said, “I discovered that he was in love with the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and I therefore began to better understand.”
Carlo also touched his medical team by his faith. Mares said they remember that “his gentle eyes taught us a lot. Life, whether short or long, must be lived intensely for oneself, but also and above all for others.” In the hospital, Carlo evangelized with his life and sometimes even with only a gaze.
According to Occhetta, Carlo told his mom, “I am happy to die because I have lived my life without wasting a minute on those things which do not please God.” Death was not feared but was rather a welcomed invitation. Carlo died on the morning of October 12, 2006.
On the Path to Sainthood
As Carlo’s witness circled the globe, people started to pray for his intercession. In 2009, the first oratory in his honor was established by Bishop Domenico Sorrentino, the bishop of Assisi, right next to Santa Maria Maggiore, where his body now rests.
Carlo was named a Servant of God in November 2016 by the bishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola. He was declared Venerable in July 2018 by Pope Francis, and he was beatified on October 10, 2020, just two days before the 14th anniversary of his death.
Today, the family of Carlo Acutis continues his mission of spreading the joy of the Eucharist. In Occhetta’s book, Carlo is quoted as saying, “If we get in front of the sun, we get suntans, but when we get in front of Jesus in the Eucharist, we become saints.” Blessed Carlo Acutis, indeed, is one step closer to becoming a saint.