Carlo Acutis

"Nothing more than lifting your gaze"

Pope Francis has recognized a miracle attributable to the intercession of Blessed Carlo Acutis, soon to be canonized. Here a portrait of the young Milanese man inflamed by the passion for his Friend Jesus (from Traces, February 2014)
Paola Bergamini

“Ma’am, your son is special.” Antonia Acutis heard this many times, from their parish priest, from his teachers and classmates, from the doorman of their building on Via Ariosto in Milan, where they moved in 1994, three years after the birth of Carlo, a young man who died at the age of 15 and for whom the Congregation of the Causes of Saints has granted the nulla osta permission for the start of the diocesan inquiry for the cause of his beatification.
Carlo was a normal young man, lively, with many friends and a passion for computers. But the special thing about Carlo has a name: Jesus, his Friend. When Carlo was very young and they would pass in front of a church he would say, “Mom, let’s go in and say hello to Jesus, say a prayer.” Then she discovered he was reading the lives of the saints and the Bible. They had a normal family, and initially their presence at church was not all that regular. “But that ‘little monster’ asked me so many deep questions I couldn’t answer. I wondered at his devotion. He was so little and so sure. I understood that it was something all his own, but it called me, too. So I began my journey of returning to the faith. I followed him,” she recalls. Fr. Aldo Locatelli, the priest who accompanied her and her son, told her, “There are children whom the Lord calls at a very young age.”

The highway. When Carlo was 7, he asked to receive his First Holy Communion. His Friend drew even closer. At Fr. Aldo’s request, Bishop Pasquale Macchi (who was the secretary of Paul VI) interviewed the boy and then granted his right to receive the Sacrament early (by Italian standards), for his maturity and Christian formation. He just gave one recommendation, that the celebration be held in a place that facilitated inner recollection, free of distractions. On June 16, 1998, Carlo received the Eucharist in the silence of the monastery of Bernaga in Perego, near Lecco. Carlo had a regular life, with one fixed, special point: daily Mass, because, he said, “the Eucharist is my highway to Heaven. We are luckier than the Apostles who lived with Jesus 2,000 years ago: to meet Him we just have to go into a church. We have Jerusalem right around the corner.” At the end of the celebration of Mass, he would stay for Adoration. He went to Confession frequently because “like a hot air balloon, in order to go high up you need to dump the weights. In the same way, to rise to Heaven the soul needs to dump its venial sins.” They were simple words, those of a boy, but they expressed his desire to stay with that Friend who was asking everything of him, above all to testify to Him with his life.

The pair of shoes. Carlo had a strong character, irrepressible. His passion for computers lead him to study new programs. He also enjoyed Play Station with his friends. At school, first at the Institute of the Marcelline Sisters of Piazza Tommaseo and then at the Leo XIII high school, run by the Jesuits, he was everyone’s friend, especially those in need. His classmates, even those who did not believe, wanted to spend time with him. They asked for advice and help. They sought him out, because it was easy to be with Carlo; there was something attractive about him. And yet he was not one to love fashions. He got angry when his mother wanted to buy him a second pair of shoes. He was not interested. He never hid what was his great source of happiness. In his bedroom, he had a picture of Jesus and everyone could see it. He would invite his classmates to go to Mass with him, to be reconciled with God. In a notebook he wrote, “Sadness is the gaze directed inwards, while happiness is the gaze directed toward God. Conversion is nothing more than lifting your gaze from low to high. Just a simple movement of the eyes.”
Everyone in the neighborhood knew him. When he passed by on his bike, he would stop to greet the doorkeepers, many Muslims or Hindus. He told them about himself, his faith, and they listened to this nice, affable young man. At lunch, he would put the leftover food in food containers to bring to the homeless of the area. His family employed a Hindu (Brahmin) housekeeper named Rajesh. A deep friendship formed between him and Carlo to the point that the man converted and asked to receive the Sacraments. Rajesh recounts: “He said that I would be happier if I drew close to Jesus. I got baptized a Christian because he communicated to me and electrified me with his faith, his charity, and his purity. I always considered him beyond normal because such a young, handsome, and rich man normally prefers to live a different life.” But Carlo didn’t know what a “different life” meant. For him, money was not to be wasted. He used his savings to buy a sleeping bag for the homeless man he saw when he went to Mass. And he would donate money to the Cappuchins, who served lunches for the homeless.
In 2002, he accompanied his parents to the Meeting of Rimini because a priest friend was to give a talk presenting the Small Eucharistic Catechism. He was fascinated by the people and the exhibits he saw. He had the idea of making an exhibit on Eucharistic miracles. Antonia Acutis recounts, “He was certain that this way, through exhibit displays, people would realize that the host and the consecrated wine are truly the Body and Blood of Christ, that there is nothing symbolic about this, but that it is the real opportunity to encounter Him. In that period, he was a catechist’s assistant and using exhibits seemed to him a new way to have people reason about the Eucharistic Mystery.”

“They have to see.” When they returned to Milan, he got to work on his own exhibit. His knowledge of computers was of great help. He threw himself into it, getting information, asking his parents to drive him throughout Italy and Europe to get photographic material. He involved everyone, “filling” three computers. After three years, his exhibit was ready and, unexpectedly, by word of mouth, it began to be requested not only in Italian dioceses, but throughout the world. During a vacation in the summer of 2006, Carlo asked his mother, “Do you think I should become a priest?” The woman responded simply, “You’ll understand it yourself. God will make you understand.”
At the beginning of October, Carlo fell ill. It seemed like a normal flu. Only shortly before getting sick, he had finished the presentation of a video with the proposals for volunteer work for the students of his high school. It was scheduled to be shown on October 4th. But he could not go because of his sudden illness. He was hospitalized a few days later. It was not the flu, but a terribly aggressive form of leukemia, M3–the worst. There was no chance of recovery. Crossing the threshold of the hospital, he told his mother, “I won’t be leaving here alive.” A few days before that, he had told his parents, “I offer the suffering I’ll have to undergo to the Lord for the Pope and for the Church, so I won’t have to go to Purgatory and I can go straight to Paradise.” The sufferings arrived. But when a nurse asked him how he felt, he answered, “Good. There are people worse off. Don’t wake Mom; she’s tired and would worry more.” He asked the nurses to give him the Anointing of the Sick. He died on October 12th. The day of the funeral, the church and the square in front were jam packed. His mother recounts, “I saw people I’d never met before. Homeless people, immigrants, children... So many people who spoke to me of Carlo, of what he had done, things of which I knew nothing. They testified to me of the life of my son, to me, who felt like an orphan myself.”
Carlo’s life was a testimony that went beyond death, that transformed the lives of many. Through those who met him and through the world of Internet, his thoughts and his story became known. His family has received thousands of letters and e-mails asking to know more about this special young man. One reads, “I visited the Church of San Fredian al Cestello in Florence and was struck by the image of Carlo that almost seemed to be waiting there for me. I couldn’t help but go closer and read the story of a young man whose 15 years were enough to leave an indelible mark on this earth.” And another on Facebook from a boy who never met him: “Carlo lived in a very wealthy family, and nothing would have kept him from living comfortably, making him proud and arrogant. Instead, he always maintained that ‘poor’ tenor of life and thought, open to the littlest ones, altruistic toward everyone, which is of no small account on our ‘planet.’” For many young people, he has become a model of how to live the faith. Some have related stories about their own conversions. And his exhibit has reached the ends of the earth: China, Russia, Latin America. In the United States, thanks to the help of the Knights of Columbus, it has been hosted by thousands of parishes and over 100 universities.
Fr. Giussani wrote, “God’s freedom moves in the life He created, becoming involved through pre-ordained people and places, preferred, we would say, but it is a preference in function of everything.” The uniqueness of Carlo was this preference, which he loved and embraced. “He is now a priest in heaven,” says his mother. “He couldn’t fathom how stadiums could be full for concerts while, instead, churches were empty. He kept saying, ‘They have to understand.’”