Carlo Acutis, an English-born Italian Catholic youth, was beatified by the Catholic Church in Assisi, Italy on October 10, 2020. His life is inspiring, not only for young people, but for every Christian. Here is a biography of Blessed Carlo Acutis and our translation of a September 16, 2020 letter in French from the Abbey of Saint Joseph de Clairval.
by Dom Jean-Bernard Marie, OSB
Many disillusioned Christians believe that, at the start of the third millennium, it is no longer possible for a young person to follow the path of holiness, unless he locks himself in a “bubble”, impermeable to time and circumstances. Carlo Acutis, an Italian adolescent who died at the age of fifteen in 2006, praised by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit (March 25, 2019), proves the opposite. This spirited adolescent was exceptionally gifted, especially in computing, and saw the Eucharist as “his highway to heaven”.
Carlo was born in London on May 3, 1991, to Andrea and Antonia Acutis, a young Italian family working in England. His parents did not practice any faith but Carlo was baptized on May 15, and would be educated in the Catholic religion. Carlo observed everything around him with keen interest. This ability was one of his dominant qualities. He would say about Baptism: “It is a very important thing, because it allows souls to save themselves thanks to their insertion in divine Life. People who participate in a Baptism too often focus on the confetti, candy and the white dress, which are part of the feast, but they absolutely do not care to understand the meaning of this great gift that God gives to mankind.” This gift is the possibility of becoming children of God (Jn 1:12) and heirs of His eternal Kingdom (Rm 8:17).
The Acutis family returned to Milan in September, 1991. Carlo was a sociable and peaceful child. His Polish nanny urged him to be more pugnacious with aggressive children and he replied: “The Lord would not be happy if I reacted with violence.” Summers were spent by the sea, in Centola, near Salerno. The child was quickly adopted by the entire population of this quiet village, and befriended everyone. He fervently recited the Rosary and attended Mass every day since his First Communion at the age of seven. His meditation when he received Communion impressed those around him.
In Milan, Carlo was educated at the Tommaseo Institute of the Sisters of St. Marcellina. He remained faithful to daily Mass attendance. Along the way, the child stopped to chat a little with the janitors, usually foreigners, who were unaccustomed to such attention from the inhabitants of the Lombard metropolis. His tact allowed him to put himself at everyone’s level regardless of their social standing. He showed the greatest respect to the poor, weak and abandoned and believed that high rank or material wealth obliged one to benefit the less fortunate. An unemployed man who begged at the entrance of a church remembered that Carlo gave him a coin every day and talked to him kindly. This man had spoken to Carlo of his destitute friend who had let herself die of depression and misery. Carlo and his mother had managed to have the woman hospitalized. “Carlo was too good and too pure for this land”, concluded the good man.
Carlo was not a stained-glass saint. He was fond of animals, cats and dogs in particular (his parents owned several), which he featured in funny videos. He liked to play football, learned the saxophone on his own, and above all, was passionate about computers. However, these interests were not an end in themselves. Ensuring one’s talents bear fruit is a means for God’s gifts to each of us to glorify Him and also to procure the good of one’s neighbour. Carlo never kept what he learned to himself; he was always eager to share it with others. He would never brag about what he knew or about his possessions. He was indifferent to the tyranny of fashion (such as brand named clothes and current trends). He dressed simply and without calculation.
At school, he made strong friendships, but was not always understood. Many wondered, for instance, why he always spent holidays in Assisi, when his parents’ financial means would have allowed him to tour faraway countries and more fashionable locales. Shortly before his death, Carlo confided to his spiritual father: “Assisi is the place where I feel the happiest!”
His many friendships were chaste. He did not support familiarities between young people of the opposite sex, nor premarital cohabitation. He was faithful to the Church and her teachings, especially in matters of sexuality and family morals. During a discussion about abortion during a religion class Carlo stood up for human life, stating that an embryo is a human being from conception, and that abortion was homicide.
At the age of fourteen, Carlo was enrolled in the high school of the Leo XIII Institute in Milan, run by the Jesuits. He offered to develop the establishment’s website, a job to which he devoted the entire summer of 2006. He was also preparing children for the sacrament of Confirmation. In class, he was particularly attentive to classmates who had difficulty keeping up with the pace of their studies and gave private lessons in mathematics. A Jesuit father, close to Carlo during these years, summed up his impression: “I am convinced that he was like leaven in dough, or even more like a grain of wheat buried in the earth; he made no noise but made people grow. From him, one could say: here is a happy and genuine young Christian. “
Carlo spent long hours developing software to meet the needs of his friends. He was always available to introduce them to the mysteries of the computer, as he considered it essential for a young person to know how to use technology well. A programming professional testified: “I was amazed at his competence in the field of programming; at fifteen, he was at the same level as me, who has published several books on the subject that are used in business and university. He was extraordinarily intuitive. “
Carlo was a living example, a sort of compass, teaching everyone to avoid excesses, including the catastrophic mistakes that can result from the many possible uses of the world wide web. The first mistake is to allow oneself to be drawn into a virtual world at the expense of the real world where God is present and gives us tasks to accomplish under his gaze. Then, the conscience weakens and the urge to transgress becomes irresistible.
In the Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit (March 25, 2019), Pope Francis addressed young people as follows (n. 104-106): “The digital world can expose you to the risk of self-absorption, isolation and empty pleasure. But don’t forget that there are young people who show creativity, and even genius. That was the case with Venerable Carlo Acutis. Carlo was well aware that the apparatus of communications, advertising and social networking can be used to lull us, to make us addicted to consumerism and buying the latest thing on the market, obsessed with our free time, caught up in negativity. Yet he knew how to use the new communication technologies to transmit the Gospel, to communicate values and beauty.
“Carlo did not fall into the trap. He saw that many young people, wanting to be different, really end up being like everyone else, running after whatever the powerful present to them through consumerism and distraction. In this way they do not develop the gifts the Lord has given them; they do not offer the world the unique personal talents that God has bestowed on each of us. As a result, Carlo said, ‘everyone is born as an original, but many people end up dying as a photocopy.’ Don’t let that happen to you!”
Carlo Acutis always kept in mind the four last ends of every human life: death, judgment, hell and paradise. His attention to these topics sometimes caused him to be called excessive or bigoted, even by his friends. He met priests who did not believe in the existence of hell, or even purgatory, a fact which scandalized him. For him, this point of Catholic doctrine, repeatedly taught by Jesus Christ and by the Magisterium of the Church, was beyond doubt: “If souls really run the risk of damning themselves, as indeed so many saints have testified and as the apparitions of Fatima have confirmed, I wonder why, today, we hardly ever talk about hell, because it’s such a terrible and dreadful thing that I’m scared just to think about it... the only thing we should really fear is sin.” In fact, “to the eyes of faith, no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1488.)
Carlo did not forget the souls in purgatory and was convinced that the most effective help we can give to the dead is to attend Mass for them in order to deliver them from purgatory. The Pope and the Church were dear to his heart. During a visit to the Vatican in 2000, he was impressed by the consecration to Our Lady made by Pope Saint John Paul II in union with bishops around the world. Carlo prayed that all the people of the earth would know and love Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Carlo watched the inter-religious meeting in Assisi in 2002 on television and commented: “The Pope was surely inspired by God, because, by this meeting, everyone was offered the possibility to know and love Christ, the only Savior of the world, on which salvation depends”.
The young man befriended Rajesh Mohur, a family man of the Hindu religion and Brahmin caste. He strove to evangelize him and dazzled him with his knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he knew almost by heart and explained in a luminous manner. Rajesh asked for the Sacrament of Baptism and is waiting with great desire for the day when he will be able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Virtues, Carlo told his friend, are mainly acquired by an intense sacramental life, and it is the Eucharist which is the summit. Through the Eucharist, the Lord makes us complete persons, made in his image. Carlo also prepared Rajesh for Confirmation and shared with him that through this sacrament he received a mysterious force which was reflected in the growth of his personal Eucharistic devotion. On the day of his Confirmation his friend experienced the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Carlo spent most of his vacations in Assisi, in a house owned by his family. The example of Saint Francis’ humility became familiar to him. He understood that humility, that virtue contrary to the innate pride we have inherited as children of Adam, is the royal path to true holiness. He especially appreciated the sanctuary of Mount Alverno, where Saint Francis received the stigmata and then died in 1224, configured in an extraordinary way to the Passion of Christ. It was there that, during several retreats, Carlo deepened his understanding of the mystery of the Mass, the perfect sacrifice which makes present the sacrifice of Calvary.
Carlo Acutis’ spiritual life was centered on daily Mass. On the rare occasions when he could not take part he recollected himself and made a spiritual communion. “The Eucharist is my highway to heaven!” he often repeated. “Souls sanctify themselves very effectively thanks to the fruits of the daily Eucharist,” he affirmed, “and so they do not risk finding themselves in perils which would jeopardize their eternal salvation.”
Before or after Holy Mass, Carlo had a time of adoration. He knew that the Church attached a full indulgence to the worship of the Blessed Sacrament for one-half hour and he often applied this spiritual benefit to the most abandoned souls in purgatory. He became the apostle who convinced fallen away worshippers to participate in Sunday Mass and several of his friends resumed religious practice, some after his death.
Carlo was passionate about Eucharistic miracles which had multiplied over the centuries. He used his skills to create a website dedicated to these miracles. The site still exists and is translated into many languages. The miracle of Lanciano particularly touched him. In the village of Abruzzo, a host had miraculously become Flesh and Blood after consecration in the year 750, and is venerated to this day. Analyzed in 1970 it was confirmed that the Flesh was heart tissue and the Blood, which remains fresh, belongs to the AB blood group. This astonishing scientific fact confirmed Carlo in his particular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which deserves to be adored “as a natural and very expressive symbol of that inexhaustible love that our divine Redeemer never ceases to feel towards the human race” (Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, n. 42). His family returned to religious practice under his influence and were consecrated to the Sacred Heart. He offered communions and sacrifices “to repair the indignities that Jesus receives in the sacrament of his Love”, according to the request made by the Lord to Saint Marguerite-Marie (in Paray-le-Monial, 1675).
During adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Carlo meditated on the mysteries of the life of Christ, especially during his childhood. The poverty chosen by the Only Begotten Son of God, in his incarnation and birth in a stable, particularly struck him. Shortly before his death, he confided to his spiritual father that the assiduous practice of Eucharistic adoration had greatly improved his prayer; that now he was less distracted and his love for Jesus had greatly increased. To correct his faults of gluttony, laziness, propensity for gossip, distractions in the recitation of the Rosary, etc., the young man resorted to the sacrament of Penance weekly. “To fly to the heights the hot air balloon needs to let go of ballast, just as the soul, to rise to heaven, needs to take off even the smallest weights that venial sins are... Do like me and you will see the results”, he said.
Since his early childhood, Carlo had great respect and affection for cloistered nuns. He made his First Communion in the Church of the Hermit Sisters of St. Ambrose in Perego and met nuns from several other convents. It is to the intercession of the nuns that he would attribute, as a teenager, the grace to overcome the temptations against chastity and temperance (alcohol, drugs), which are the cause of so many sins and devastation among young people. Remembering that the family should be “like a sanctuary of the Church at home” (Vatican II, Apostolicam actuositatem, n. 11), he advised parents to pray with their children for their perseverance in the state of grace during adolescence.
His Marian devotion was evidenced in a particular affection for the sanctuary of Our Lady of Pompeii, near Naples, where he consecrated himself several times to Our Lady of the Rosary. There he obtained from Mary the grace of the conversion of a woman who had not frequented the sacraments for thirty years. Carlo also made pilgrimages to Lourdes and Fatima, which greatly influenced his spiritual life.
“My son was leading an absolutely normal life,” said Carlo’s father, “but he always had in mind that we will all have to die one day or another. When we spoke to him about a project for the future, he replied: “Yes, if we are still alive tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, for only God knows the future”. In early October 2006, Carlo, who was fifteen and one-half years old, became ill. The symptoms were like a sore throat and neither his parents nor the family doctor were worried. But the young man, as if seized by an intuition, said to his parents: “I offer to the Lord, for the Pope and the Church, all the sufferings that I will have to endure, and also to go straight to heaven without going through purgatory.”
The following Sunday, he was extremely weak and was taken to the clinic. Tests revealed the terrible reality that he had acute M3 subtype leukemia, one of the most aggressive forms of blood cancer. When he learned the seriousness of his illness, the boy, serene, exclaimed: “The Lord wakes me up!” Respiratory therapy proved ineffective and Carlo was transferred to a hospital in Monza. To his satisfaction, his mother and grandmother were allowed to sleep in his room. A priest administered the sacraments to him. His condition rapidly worsened, causing him great suffering. The young man’s patient nature was admired by the nursing staff; when asked how he was feeling, he answered with a smile: “Good, as always” or “It could be worse.”
Carlo fell into a coma and suffered a hemorrhage on October 11 that resulted in brain death. He remained on a ventilator until his heart stopped on its own the next morning. Carlo’s parents had his body transported home to his room. During the next four days there was a continual parade in front of his remains. Huge crowds attended his funeral and many had to stand outside for lack of space. At the time of the Ite Missa est [the concluding words of the Mass], the bells began to ring for it was exactly noon and time for the Angelus. This timing was thought as a sign that Carlo had entered into heavenly glory.
In June 2018, in view of the beatification process, Carlo’s body, buried in Assisi according to his wishes, was exhumed and found intact. In April 2019, he was transferred to the Franciscan shrine of the Spoliation. On February 21, 2020, a miracle attributed to his intercession was officially recognized: the humanly inexplicable healing, in 2010, of a Brazilian child who presented with a serious and fatal malformation of the pancreas. The child’s family had sought Carlo’s intercession. The beatification of the Servant of God was celebrated in Assisi on October 10, 2020.
“To be united to Jesus is the goal of my life... What will make us truly beautiful in the eyes of God will be the way we have loved him and loved our brothers.” Let us ask this young saint to nurture in our hearts the sacred fire that Jesus came to light on earth.
Here is some additional information about Blessed Carlo Acutis, taken from the French translation of the zenit.org website:
“I will give you many signs and you will be a mother again”, Carlo said to his mother, Antonia Salzano. In 2010, at age 43, she delivered twins, Michele and Francesca, who were present with their parents at Carlo’s beatification. Antonia Salzano confided that when her child died, she said Job’s prayer: “The Lord gave, the Lord took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! “ She added: “Our children do not belong to us, they are entrusted to us. I can feel Carlo more present than when he was alive. I see the good he is doing.“
In various interviews granted to the Italian media, including in the Italian publication, Corriere della Sera, Antonia Salzano Acutis spoke to Stefano Lorenzetto on September 4 of her son’s love for animals, just like Saint Francis of Assisi whom Carlo loved. He asked to be laid to rest in Assisi. His body was found incorrupt during the exhumation fourteen years after his death. His mother discovered a note on his computer which said, “When I weigh 70 kilos, I’m going to die.” He did.
The reliquary carried in procession with his parents at the start of the beatification ceremony bears words he often repeated: “The Eucharist, my highway to Heaven”. Fervent in Eucharistic adoration, he also said: “When we expose ourselves to the sun, we tan; when we stand before Jesus the Eucharist, we become a saint! ” From the Eucharist, he drew this closeness to every person.
His mother also confided that Carlo, born in London, did not discover the faith thanks to his parents: “During my life, I had only come to church on three occasions: First Communion, Confirmation and my wedding. When I met my husband, who was studying economics in Geneva, I did not go to Mass. Carlo had a natural predisposition for the sacred. At three and one-half years old, he asked to enter churches to greet Jesus. In the parks of Milan, he picked flowers to offer them to Mary. When he was 7, he asked to make his First Communion (instead of the usual age, 10). We left him free. Carlo saved me. I was illiterate in the faith. I came closer to the faith thanks to Father Ilio Carrai, the “Padre Pio” of Bologna. Otherwise I would have felt discredited as a parental authority! It is a path that continues to this day. I hope to at least end up in purgatory.”