Amid a New Crisis of Faith, the Catholic Church Has Literally Found a Saint. Specifically, Its First Millennial Saint

His name: Carlo Acutis, an Italian tech-savvy teenager who died in 2006 at 15 years old.

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The calendar of Catholic Saints is about to welcome a new addition, but this one is quite different from the Vatican's usual choices. This time, a teenager is set to join the Catholic Church’s hagiographic chronicle. He was a young man who passed away at the age of 15, known for his love of computers and video games. His body rests in a tomb in Assisi, in the Italian region of Umbria, where he's dressed like any other teenager, wearing a sweatshirt, jeans, and a pair of sneakers.

His name is Carlo Acutis, but he’s already gaining recognition as the first millennial saint.

Millennials make it to the sanctorale. Over the centuries, the Catholic Saints’ calendar has grown with thousands and thousands of names. However, the inclusion of Acutis will be special, but not because of the life he led or the miracles attributed to him. He’ll be the first saint of the millennial generation. Acutis passed away 18 years ago, in October 2006, due to fulminant leukemia.

If the year he was born wasn’t enough to identify him as a millennial, the articles that have been written about Acutis show how, religious significance aside, his interests were typical for a boy of his generation. He liked computers, video games, and soccer. In fact, he was particularly skilled in computer programming and he even developed a website to document what he considered to be holy miracles.

Who was Carlo Acutis? The first millennial saint was born in May 1991 in London. In September of that same year, he moved with his parents to Milan, where he studied and received his First Communion and Confirmation. In 2006, at the age of 15, he was diagnosed with a serious type of leukemia that ended his life in a just matter of days. He received the news at the Clinica De Marchi, a pediatric clinic in Milan, on October 9. Less than a week later, he was declared legally dead.

After the Diocese of Assisi requested his beatification, the Church officially opened the process to add him to the liturgical calendar. The process began in 2012, and seven years later his body was exhumed. There was debate over whether or not the corpse was “incorrupt.” In 2020, the Pope beatified him, and everything now indicates that he’ll soon become the first saint of the millennial cohort.

Why is Carlo Acutis in the news now? The Church has just cleared the way to make him a saint. The news was announced on May 23 by Vatican News, the official news portal of the Holy See. During an audience with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Pope approved the decree on one of the miracles attributed to Acutis. This step is essential for the canonization of the teenager. As CNN points out, candidates for sainthood usually need two confirmed miracles.

The Church recognized Acutis’ alleged healing of a child with a malformation of the pancreas a while back. Now, it attributes another healing to him: The apparent healing of a young woman who had suffered a severe head injury after falling off a bicycle in Florence. In the first case, the healing was supposedly achieved after the child came into contact with a relic of Acutis (a piece of his t-shirt), and in the second case, after the young girl’s mother visited Carlo’s tomb.

The “patron saint” of the Internet. The fact that the second miracle has been recognized doesn’t mean that Acutis is already a full-fledged saint. After the Pope’s decree, there are at least two other steps left: A summit of cardinals must discuss Acutis’ sainthood and then officials must set a date for the formal canonization ceremony. In any case, as per Vatican News, it seems that the steps that remain are just formalities.

Anyhow, Acutis is already known as the first saint of the millennial generation. Some consider him the true “patron saint of the Internet,” although Pope John Paul II gave that title to St. Isidore of Seville almost a decade and a half ago. St. Isidore of Seville was a prelate, scholar, and theologian who lived between the 6th and 7th centuries (560 - 636).

It’s no coincidence that Acutis is associated with the Internet. He’s known for his fondness for computers. He became self-taught enough to create a website on miracles and manage the pages of local Catholic organizations. “Carlo was the light answer to the dark side of the web,” his mother told The New York Times, adding that some devotees see him as an “influencer for God.”

Connecting with the youth. The canonization process of Acutis is happening at a time when the Catholic Church is facing challenges in connecting with young people. Recent data shows that the number of young Catholics is decreasing. Today, only 20% of the U.S. population between 13 to 25 year olds are Catholic. And in other countries where Catholicism is the dominant religion, such as Spain, the percentage of young Catholics has fallen by more than 20 points compared to a decade ago.

A young saint for young people. Acutis represents a new image for traditional saints. His tomb in Assisi clearly depicts him as a young saint for young people, as he’s dressed in a sweater, jeans, and sneakers. His hagiographers tend to present him as a teenager who shared interests with most boys his age, like soccer or video games.

However, some people argue that this portrayal may not be entirely accurate, citing evidence that contradicts claims about, for instance, his interest in soccer or his casual attire. As you can see in his tomb in Umbria, he wore moccasins instead of sneakers.

Image | Dobroš via Wikipedia

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