Carlo Acutis is the youngest contemporary person to be beatified, a path taken by two Portuguese shepherd children living in the early 1900s who were proclaimed Catholic saints in 2017.
At the beatification ceremony in the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, a portrait of Acutis was slowly unveiled, revealing a smiling teen in a red polo shirt, his curly dark hair illuminated by a halo of light. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the papal legate for the Assisi basilicas, kissed each of the boy's mask-wearing parents, Andrea Acutis and Antonia Salzano, after reading the proclamation decreed by Pope Francis.
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Already touted as the "patron saint of the internet," Acutis created a website to catalog miracles and took care of websites for some local Catholic organizations. While still in elementary school, Acutis taught himself to code using a university computer science textbook, and then learned how to edit videos and create animation.
"Carlo used the internet in service of the Gospel, to reach as many people as possible," the cardinal said during his homily, adding that the teen saw the web "as a place to use with responsibility, without becoming enslaved."
Acutis was born in London on May 3, 1991, to Italian parents and moved to Milan as a child. Already as a small child, he showed a strong religious devotion that surprised his non-practicing parents. His mother told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that from age 3 he would ask to visit churches they passed in Milan, and by age 7 had asked to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, winning an exception to the customary age requirement.
"There was in him a natural predisposition for the sacred," his mother said.
His curiosity prompted her to study theology in order to answer his questions, renewing her own faith.
"Carlo saved me. I was an illiterate of faith. I came back thanks to Father Ilio Carrai, the Padre Pio of Bologna, otherwise I would have felt discredited in my parental authority. It is a path that continues. I hope to at least wind up in purgatory," she told the Milan daily.
Acutis died of acute leukemia on Oct. 12, 2006.
He was put on the road to sainthood after Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to Acutis: The healing of a 7-year-old Brazilian boy from a rare pancreatic disorder after coming into contact with an Acutis relic, a piece of one of his T-shirts.
"I was sure he was already a saint while alive. He healed a woman from cancer, praying to the Madonna of Pompeii," his mother told Corriere.
Another verified miracle is necessary for sainthood, although Pope Francis has waived that on rare occasions.
Acutis was buried in Assisi at his own requests, having become an admirer of St. Francis of Assisi for his dedication to the poor. The Umbrian town was one of his favorite travel destinations. His body, clad in a tracksuit and sneakers, has been on display for veneration in a sanctuary in the town, and his heart will be displayed in a reliquary in the St. Francis Basilica.
Acutis told his mother that he would give her many signs of his presence after death.
"Before he left us, I told him: If in heaven you find our four-legged friends, look for Billy, my childhood dog that he never knew," the mother said. One day she got a call from an aunt who was unaware of the mother-son pact, saying "I saw Carlo in a dream tonight. He was holding Billy in his arms."