A Saint Born in London and Loved in Ireland

A Saint Born in London and Loved in Ireland Blessed Carlo Acutis. Photo: OSV News

The news this week that Blessed Carlo Acutis may soon be canonised has been greeted with delight in Ireland, where he already inspires great devotion. The first saint to wear Nikes may soon become a reality. As we reported yesterday, Pope Francis has formally recognised a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Carlo Acutis, a 15-year-old Italian teenager whose birth in 1991 will make him the first ‘millennial’ to become a saint. This will come as little surprise to his growing number of admirers around the world, including right here in Ireland.

Blessed Acutis was born and baptised in London to Italian parents in 1991, but the family moved back to Milan, Italy, while he was still a baby. He was an only child who loved football, Pokémon, and animals, yet more unusually, he rapidly developed a very strong faith. Neither of his parents were religious, yet from an early age, Carlo never wanted to pass a church without going in. He made his first communion early and developed a deep devotion to the Eucharist. “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.”

From the age of 11, he never missed daily Mass and began visiting sites of Eucharistic miracles all over the world with his parents, documenting them on a website he created. He devoted hours each week to helping others, particularly those in distress. In early October 2006, Carlo became ill. His condition deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with leukaemia. He took the news calmly, immediately offering all his sufferings for the Pope, the Church, and his own direct entry into heaven. “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, aged just 15.

As he had wished, Carlo was buried in Assisi at St. Mary Major’s “Chapel of the Stripping”, where St. Francis had returned his clothes to his father and embraced a different life. Among the thousands present for Carlo’s beatification at Assisi’s Basilica of St. Francis were many of his childhood friends. Presiding at the beatification service, Cardinal Agostino Vallini praised Carlo as an example of how young people can use technology to spread the Gospel “to reach as many people as possible and help them know the beauty of friendship with the Lord.”

Since then, his story has attracted great devotion around the world, but particularly in Ireland. Some of his relics have toured the country, attracting huge crowds in Clogher, Knock, and County Down, where parish priest Fr Gerry McCloskey said, “The huge numbers of those wanting to venerate show that devotion to this young saint is increasing as many favours are being received through his intercession. Well over 5,500 people attended the two-day pilgrimage to get a blessing of the young boy’s relic.”

The ground was laid for those crowds during the pandemic when the Diocese of Cloyne ran online courses on Blessed Carlo’s life during lockdown. Our own Brendan O’Regan positively reviewed a documentary on the topic around this time, saying, ‘I liked the way the film ended with a roundup of quotes from Carlo – ‘To be always united with Jesus is the plan of my life’, ‘our goal must be infinite, not finite’, his description of the Eucharist as a ‘highway to Heaven’. At a time when most of us are deprived of receiving the Eucharist, it served as a reminder of why it should be so important to us, so central to our life of faith.’

Bishop Phonsie Cullinan explained the appeal as coming from a young man who was “obviously in love with God and in love with others and so cheerful”. He went on: “So many of our young people are going around with long faces, and how many of them are caught in depression and drug addiction? It’s chronic, and here we have a young man who’s telling us there is no need for all of this, Jesus loves you and just go for it and love him back.”

Others, like Sacred Heart Missionary Fr Alan Neville, have focused on his work on the internet, seeing Blessed Carlo’s efforts as a potent counterexample to much of the negativity on social media.

He described Blessed Acutis as being a “model of holiness that shows us how we can engage with a world that has incredible opportunities for us to share good news”. “The internet is one of the most incredible opportunities for us in evangelisation, But it’s an area I think we’ve been very slow to move into. The internet is the modern-day Areopagus; this is where St. Paul would have been, engaging with a place that is sometimes hostile to the Faith, but you know, you can work with hostility – these are people who are searching. We need to be able to get out there and give an account of the hope that’s in us.”

But Michael Kelly, our former editor, put it most succinctly. At a time when so many young people are turning away from the church, here is a hopeful counterexample. “To see one of their contemporaries held up as a model of holiness shows that living such a life is not an unrealistic ideal, but something that is possible with the help of God,” he wrote. “As C.S. Lewis puts it: ‘To become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun!’”