The tomb is white stone, appearing to levitate, with light streaming from behind it, breath-taking when closed. Open — as it will be until October 17 — the sight is heart-stopping. Inside a glass coffin lies a teenage boy, apparently sleeping, his face peaceful and kind, a rosary looped around his hand. But these are not the ordinary saintly remains: this teenage boy is dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a casual sports top. Incongruous—yet completely right for a fledgling saint who died in 2006.
The boy in the tomb is Venerable Carlo Acutis, who will be beatified this Saturday, October 10, joining the ranks of teen Saints and Blessed such as Agnes, Dominic Savio, Rose of Viterbo, and José Sanchez del Rio.
Despite the pandemic, the ceremony is going ahead in Assisi as planned, where his body now lies (remarkably intact though not officially incorrupt). The Chapel of the Renunciation — where St Francis of Assisi so famously literally divested himself of all his father’s possessions before walking away naked — makes an appropriate resting place for a boy who lived so simply he argued with his parents when they wanted to buy him a second pair of shoes.
Born in London, in 1991, Carlo and his family soon moved back to Italy, where he grew up as an ordinary only child. He loved football, Pokémon, action films, and all animals (he had four dogs, two cats and many goldfish as pets). From early childhood, his first love was Our Lord in the Eucharist.
Neither of his parents were religious, yet from an early age Carlo never wanted to pass a church without going in to “say hello to Jesus.” As a result, his mother came back to faith, then his father. Carlo received his First Holy Communion early, at his own request, in a local convent, entering under a doorway that said “God is enough.”
Carlo’s love, appreciation and reverence for the Eucharist were exceptional. “The Eucharist is my highway to Heaven!” he would say. And, “If we get in front of the sun, we get sun tans, but when we get in front of Jesus in the Eucharist, we become Saints.”
He never missed daily Mass, even when (from the age of eleven) he began visiting Eucharistic miracles all over the world with his parents, documenting them. A “computer genius” and possible future patron saint of the internet, by age fourteen he had created a Eucharistic Miracle display that would tour the world, along with a website. He believed that if people knew that Jesus was truly in the Eucharist, they would turn to God.
Carlo knew he would die young, even predicting the cause of his death and his weight at the time. His mother said, “Carlo always had a sense that he couldn’t waste time.” He hated to be enslaved by anything, so although he loved computer games, he allowed himself to play for only one hour a week, and gave the rest of his time to good works helping children, the elderly, and the poor. As soon as he was confirmed, age eleven, he became a catechist. He met and chatted with many migrants, standing sponsor for one when he got baptized. He was popular at school, but also befriended children who were unhappy at home, defended the disabled, and treated girls with an old-fashioned purity that challenged everyone. He would defend his Catholic faith — including his pro-life views — fearlessly in class.
Then, in early October, 2006, Carlo became ill with flu — so it was thought, until his condition deteriorated. He was admitted to hospital, receiving a terrible diagnosis: “It is a devastating leukemia.” The fifteen-year-old boy who loved to laugh had days to live. Carlo took the news calmly, immediately offering all his sufferings for the Pope, the Church, and his own direct entry into heaven (he had a horror of purgatory). “I am happy to die,” he said, “because I have lived my life without wasting a minute on those things which do not please God.”
“I would like to leave this hospital,” he told his mother, “but I know I will not do so alive. I will give you signs, though, that I am with God.” He died on October 12. Some of his last words were to a nurse who offered to wake his mother, since he was suffering. He refused: “She is very tired as well and she will only worry even more.”
Exactly four years later, on the anniversary of Carlo’s death, at the age of forty-four, his mother gave birth to the promised ‘signs’—Carlo’s twin brother and sister.
Carlo’s mother has said that God chose Carlo to be “an example for the young people of this period in history.” On Saturday the Church gains a truly inspiring new Blessed to walk alongside our young people and lead them on the highway to heaven. Blessed Carlo Acutis, pray for us.
Corinna Turner is author most recently of The Boy who Knew (Carlo Acutis) — available now in the UK and US — as well as numerous other highly acclaimed works of young adult fiction.