CHESHIRE — Whether or not a person is religious, sainthood is likely to be a familiar term.
The names of saints are found in the names of holidays and cities around the world, in the lyrics of songs and in popular expressions. Many saints are individuals who lived during the earliest days of Christianity. Even the most recent saint of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, was born in 1920 and died in 2004.
While many can seem to belong to a distant era, a recent exhibition and lecture at St. Bridget of Sweden Parish celebrated a millennial known as Blessed Carlo Acutis. While not an official saint yet, he lived a life that continues to inspire believers around the world.
From Sept. 14 through the 16, visitors were welcomed to the St. Bridget of Sweden school gymnasium for The Vatican International Exhibit of Eucharistic Miracles, a collection of dozens of posters explaining various miracles around the world. Cataloguing these events was the project to which Blessed Carlo dedicated himself. Also present were relics — sacred objects blessed by their relationship to the young man whose brief life was devoted to the mystery of faith.
Carlo Acutis was born in 1991, the only child of wealthy Italian parents. From an early age, he showed a fascination with attending church services and living a life of goodness, according to Eileen Wood, a volunteer at her own church in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, who travels the region sharing the exhibition.
Per Wood, Carlo’s parents were not particularly devout. But Carlo, in part thanks to his Polish nanny, began attending regular Masses from an early age. He showed great compassion for the poor, for animals, and stood out in school as being unwilling to participate in the juvenile fun of his peers.
“He defended people who were being bullied, but he was never judgmental in his ways,” Wood said.
Carlo struggled with his weight at times, due to a love of Nutella, but used that temptation to seek a life of moderation. This included, Wood said, limiting playing video games to just one hour per week.
Coming from wealth, he often donated meals and clothing to the poor of Milan, where the family lived.
Though an avid student of religion, Wood said Carlo was not an outstanding performer in school, except in the area of computer science.
Using that talent, and starting at the age of 11, Carlo designed a website documenting eucharistic miracles, referring to the Catholic belief that wafers and wine used in services are the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Carlo’s website continues today, with versions now available in more than a dozen languages, including Swahili, Urdu and Vietnamese.
The project originally contained 159 separate posters, which Carlo researched and prepared, often by conducting his own travels. It now describes 187 different miracles from around the world.
At the age of 15, Carlo was sick to begin the school year. It soon turned out that his illness was more severe than originally thought, and he swiftly succumbed to a rare form of leukemia. Wood said he seemed to know that death was near for him. A young man whose sole goal was to enter heaven without any stop in purgatory reassured his parents that he had faith.
After he passed, Wood noted, his parents welcomed a set of twins, a girl and a boy. “God often writes straight with crooked lines,” she said.
Because of his extraordinary commitment to that faith, Carlo is known today as “blessed,” having been officially beatified by Pope Francis. This gives him a status that the Rev. Jeffrey Romans of St. Bridget of Sweden points out is similar to that of Father Michael McGivney, “a local boy made good.”
Advocates such as Wood continue to work with Carlo’s parents and others to advance the cause of his sainthood, a process that requires verification of another miracle by a Vatican postulator.
Wood spoke of one such miracle attributed to Blessed Carlo’s intercession, which occurred in Brazil and led to the healing of young boy.
Romans notes that “we don’t worship saints or relics but we venerate them because we admire the way God worked in their lives. Healings that may happen often happen because God is at work through the intercession of the saint.”
“The saints were normal people that lived life and faced challenges and difficulties, they didn’t fall out of the sky. I encourage people to read about the lives of the saints because they can be great examples to all of us as we walk this journey,” Romans adds.
“Blessed Carlo is certainly a reminder that all of us are called to aspire to sainthood and to be holy,” he continued.