Gazing up at the stained-glass windows in a traditional church, it’s not often your eye comes across a teenager in jeans and sneakers.
But the church of San Giuseppe in Molfetta, Italy, has recently installed just that: a stained-glass window featuring the image of a 15-year-old boy wearing jeans, sneakers, a red jacket and carrying a backpack with a laptop inside. This is likely to be a world first.
As you would expect, this is no ordinary teenager. It is Carlo Acutis – the first Millennial to be beatified (or declared “blessed”) in the Roman Catholic Church, an event that took place in October 2020 by the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis.
Acutis, who died in 2006 at age 15 after a battle with leukemia, spent his short life sharing the gospel in his own way over the internet and social media. He became known in some Catholic circles as the “patron saint of the internet”, the “cyberapostle of the Eucharist” or “an influencer for God”.
After teaching himself computer programming at a young age, Acutis designed a website to document miracles.
“Carlo was able to use social media and especially the internet as an ‘influencer’ for God,” said Acutis’s mother, Antonia Salzano.
“Obviously, being a boy of our times, he experienced what all the young people of his generation have — so, computers, video games, football, school, friends,” she continued, but “he managed to transform it into the extraordinary.”
While he loved playing video games, including Pokémon and Mario Kart, Salzano noted that her son limited this pastime to one hour a week.
“Because he understood that they were potentially very harmful, very dangerous, he wanted to be the master of these means, not a slave,” she said.
“… Carlo reminds us of what is most important. The most important thing is to put God in the first place in our life.”
“He knew how to use the new communications technology to transmit the Gospel, to communicate values and beauty.” – Pope Francis
Pope Francis echoed these sentiments, saying about Acutis, “Carlo was well aware that the whole apparatus of communications, advertising and social networking can be used to lull us, to make us addicted to consumerism and buying the latest thing on the market, obsessed with our free time, caught up in negativity. Yet he knew how to use the new communications technology to transmit the Gospel, to communicate values and beauty.”
Acutis was also known for seeking out ways of “helping poor, older and disabled people, and refugees,” reports the New York Times.
His mother told the Times: “On the way to school, he would stop to chat with people about their problems, she said. He took meals and sleeping bags to homeless people and knew many by name.
“At Carlo’s funeral, the church overflowed with people whose lives he had touched, she said.”
The stained-glass window in the Molfetta church, inaugurated last May, is designed to be a reminder for other young people of Actutis’s belief that “happiness is looking towards God and sadness is looking only towards oneself.”
This legacy was also reinforced through one of his messages on social media: “Why do people care so much about the beauty of their body, and don’t care about the beauty of their soul? A life is truly beautiful only if we come to love God above all else and our neighbour as ourselves.”
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