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 (www.clairval.com).
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 Lord would not be happy”
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.
Happy and authentic
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!”
The four last things
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 was waiting with great desire for the day when he would 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.
This article will be published in our Summer 2021 magazine coming out soon!