Beatified Assisi teen showed that Heaven is ‘attainable goal’ as ‘influencer for God’

15 Oct 2020

By The Record

A woman takes a smartphone image of the body of Carlo Acutis in the Church of St Mary Major in Assisi, Italy, on 9 October. The Italian teen, who had a great love for the Eucharist, will be beatified on 10 October in Assisi. Photo: Junno Arocho Esteves/CNS.

By Junno Arocho Esteves

Thousands sang and applauded as Italian teen Carlo Acutis was beatified in Assisi, a town dear to him and to many Christians worldwide.

During the 10 October beatification Mass, Italian Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the papal legate for the Basilicas of St Francis and St Mary of the Angels in Assisi, read Pope Francis’ apostolic letter proclaiming Acutis’ “blessed”, the step before canonisation.

“With our apostolic authority, we grant that the venerable servant of God, Carlo Acutis, layman, who, with the enthusiasm of youth, cultivated a friendship with our Lord Jesus, placing the Eucharist and the witness of charity at the centre of his life, henceforth shall be called blessed,” the Holy Father decreed.

After the reading of the apostolic letter, the newly beatified teen’s parents, Andrea Acutis and Antonia Salzano, processed toward the altar carrying a reliquary containing their son’s heart.

The reliquary was engraved with one of the teen’s well-known quotes: “The Eucharist is my highway to Heaven.”

People sit outside the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi as they attend the beatification Mass of Carlo Acutis in Assisi, Italy, on 10 October. The Mass was held inside the basilica but measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 meant that most of the attendees sat outside. Photo: Junno Arocho Esteves/CNS.

Pilgrims flocked both to the Basilica of St Francis for the beatification Mass as well as to the Shrine of the Renunciation at the Church of St Mary Major, where the newly beatified teen’s remains were on display for veneration.

Known as the site where a young Saint Francis renounced his father’s inheritance and embraced poverty, the shrine held a special place in Acutis’ heart.

The teen loved St Francis “very much”, his mother, Antonia Salzano, told Catholic News Service on 9 October. St Francis “was a very Eucharistic soul who used to attend Mass twice a day”, and her son sought to imitate that same Eucharistic devotion throughout his brief life.

The liturgy was held inside the Basilica of St Francis, but measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 meant that most of those attending sat outside on seats set three-feet apart, watching on big screens.

Many young men and women came to Assisi for the beatification. For many of them, the fact that a normal teen could be beatified was a source of hope and inspiration.

In his homily, Cardinal Vallini said Acutis’ beatification “in the land of Francis of Assisi is good news, a strong proclamation that a young man of our time, one like many, was conquered by Christ and became a beacon of light for those who want to know him and follow his example”.

Reflecting on the teen’s life, Cardinal Vallini said that like most young people his age, Carlo was a “normal, simple, spontaneous, friendly” teenager who used modern forms of communication to transmit the “values and beauty of the Gospel”.

For him, “the internet was not just a means of escape, but a space for dialogue, knowledge, sharing and mutual respect that was to be used responsibly, without becoming slaves to it and rejecting digital bullying,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Vallini said Blessed Acutis was a model of virtue for young men and women today, reminding them not to seek “gratification only in ephemeral successes but in the perennial values that Jesus proposes in the Gospel”.

“He gave witness that faith does not distance us from life but immerses us more deeply in it and showed us the concrete way to live the joy of the Gospel,” the cardinal added.

“It is up to us to follow it, attracted by the fascinating experience of Blessed Carlo, so that our lives may also shine with light and hope.”

Before his death from leukaemia in 2006, Acutis was an average teen with an above-average knack for computers. He put that knowledge to use by creating an online database of Eucharistic miracles around the world.

Speaking on her son’s beautification, Antonia Salzano described Carlo as “an influencer for God”. Photo: Junno Arocho Esteves/CNS.

For Acutis’ mother, Antonia Salzano, the heartbreak that all parents experience over the loss of a child has been mingled with serenity and joy as she prepared to see her son beatified on 10 October at the Basilica of St Francis.

“It’s unusual for parents to [be present at] the beatification of their son or daughter,” Salzano told Catholic News Service On 9 October.

“It’s very unusual because normally it takes a long time. But instead, for Carlo it took 14 years to have the beatification.”

Acutis’ beatification, she said, is “an important step for us because we have so many devotees of Carlo all around the world. I think it’s a big sign for them, a great consolation”.

“It’s very, very important that we have this recognition from the Church,” Salzano added.

As part of the sainthood process, Acutis’ body was exhumed and transferred to a place suitable for public veneration, the Shrine of the Renunciation at the Church of St Mary Major in Assisi.

Placed in a glass case, his body was dressed in jeans and a track suit jacket – the attire he was accustomed to wearing and what is seen in many of the photos taken of him during his life.

The lifelike silicone mask placed on his face also sparked a debate as to whether the teen’s remains were incorrupt, prompting the Diocese of Assisi to issue a statement on 1 October that his face and hands were reconstructed in order to exhibit his remains “with dignity for the veneration of the faithful”.

Acutis’ body, Salzano told CNS, “was found intact. We cannot say incorrupt because the bishop doesn’t like it, because he says the only [ones who are] incorrupt are Jesus and the Virgin Mary.”

“Intact means that the body was like it was when he died. The only thing is that the skin became a little bit darker. For example, if you go to visit the body of St Rita in Cascia or St Catherine in Bologna,” a 15th-century Poor Clare whose body is believed to be miraculously incorrupt, “you see that the body is intact but the skin is darker,” Salzano explained.

In early October along the pristine medieval streets of Assisi, a city ubiquitous with references to St Francis, posters bore the image of a different modern saint-in-the-making Carlo Acutis, a 15-year-old Italian tech whiz. Photo: Junno Arocho Esteves/CNS.

She also said that his organs also were found intact and his heart was removed and placed in a reliquary that will be displayed at the beatification Mass.

While looking at his body makes it seem almost like he is still alive, Salzano told CNS she didn’t have “a particular reaction” to seeing his body again because she feels she has “a real, spiritual relationship with my son.”

“He makes himself very much close to me. He gives a lot of signs. Sometimes I dream of Carlo, sometimes I hear inspiration. And, also, he gives a lot of signs to a lot of people around the world. I mean, I don’t really feel the lack of Carlo because he’s a silent presence, but he makes himself heard through many people,” she said.

In his exhortation on young people, Christus Vivit (“Christ Lives”), Pope Francis said Acutis was a role model for young people today who are often tempted by the traps of “self-absorption, isolation and empty pleasure”.

While Carlo created digital content when YouTube and Facebook were in their infancy, his life and example remain relevant in today’s fast paced age of social networking, Salzano said.

One of Acutis’ most famous quotes, cited by the Supreme Pontiff in his exhortation, was: “We are all born original, but many die as photocopies”.

“I think that Carlo was a bit of a prophet of his time,” she expressed.

“Because, of course, a saint is somebody who goes a little bit against the mainstream, the mentality of most people.”

Carlo also worried that often-obsessive reverence for movie and music stars were becoming “a sort of idolatry,” she continued.

“Carlo used to say: ‘You see queues in front of a football match or an actor or rock singer, but you don’t see a queue for the tabernacle where there is the real presence of God, God that lives among us’.”

As someone dedicated to the “good side” of the internet, Acutis’ beatification during the coronavirus pandemic, in which many must follow the beatification online instead of travelling to Assisi, “is a little bit of sign”.

“I must say that the internet is incredible. It’s a gift. Of course, the internet has a dark side” when misused for pornography, bullying and selling drugs, Salzano told CNS.

“But Carlo showed the good side of internet. And we know that the light is stronger than the darkness.”