Chicago Catholics embrace ‘inspiring’ story of Carlo Acutis, set to be first millennial saint

When Pope Francis kick-started the process to name an Italian teenager the church’s first millennial saint late last month, Catholics the world over rejoiced.

But the announcement was particularly special to Catholics in Chicago, who had already embraced the teenager, Carlo Acutis, as an inspiration for younger parishioners at a time of falling church attendance and parish consolidation.

News of his impending canonization was “just beautiful to hear,” said Stephanie Rubio, a 21-year-old who attends Mother of the Americas Church in Little Village. She learned about Acutis in college and was moved by his positive attitude in the face of physical suffering.

“He was just very humble and simple,” Rubio said. “Someone like that, there’s something for me too as well … His story is inspiring.”

Acutis, who died in 2006 from leukemia at age 15, devoted his life to spreading God’s word on the internet, earning the nickname “God’s influencer” from his mother. The web programmer’s specialty was cataloging miracles in a user-friendly way to make them accessible to younger Catholics.

His fame has spread as more miracles are attributed to him. Francis confirmed Acutis’ first miracle in 2020 — the same year he was “beatified,” or blessed by the church — after a 4-year-old boy from Brazil was healed from a rare pancreatic disease after praying before a picture of Acutis in 2013. Francis attributed a second miracle to the teen last month after a woman was healed from head trauma after her mother prayed at Acutis’ shrine in Assisi, Italy, in 2022.

Acutis’ story has resonated with younger Chicago Catholics for years. Like many millennials, Acutis enjoyed computer games, soccer and Pokémon.

“Carlo becomes an easily relatable example of living your faith while still being authentically human,” said the Rev. Bradley A. Zamora, director of the Sheil Catholic Center in Evanston. A millennial himself at age 35, Zamora said Acutis’ appeal lies in his ordinariness. He was a regular teenager, but he found a way to combine his interests with his faith.

“He thought holiness was something very much achievable no matter where you are in life.”

Acutis’s appeal to younger Catholics is also evident at the Blessed Carlo Acutis Parish. The Northwest Side parish was named after the teen in 2022, when the Archdiocese of Chicago combined the parishes of St. Hedwig Church in Bucktown and St. John Berchmans in Logan Square. It’s now the first and only parish named after Acutis in the Western hemisphere, according to the Archdiocese.

The parish’s pastor, the Rev. Tomasz Wojciechowski, said they chose Acutis’ name because he “reflects a deeper understanding of faith in the contemporary world” and because of his “pioneering use of technology to spread the Gospel.”

The parish’s logo features binary code that spells his name — a nod to the teen’s background as a web programmer.

The parish even has a relic of Acutis, a lock of his hair, which the pastor said “serves as a tangible reminder of the communion of saints and the power of intercession.”

Acutis will become the patron saint of the parish when he’s likely canonized as a saint in 2025.The Catholic Church rarely bestows sainthood to people who lived in the modern era. Some of the most recent people who received sainthood to have died in the last half century include Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, and Mother Theresa, who died in 1997.

In Little Village, Acutis’ story is part of the curriculum for teen youth ministry program at the Blessed Sacrament Youth Center.

“It’s very inspiring,” said Jesus DeLeon, executive director of the youth center at 3600 W. Cermak Road. DeLeon said he tells Acutis’ story as an example of how to use technology to engage young people in the church, and he incorporated it into a lecture in front of more than 200 youth from nearby parishes at a weekly event.

“We reminded them of the story of Carlo and how we’re all called to holiness. He’s a great example of that,” DeLeon said.

Acutis’ lifework — the cataloging of Eucharistic miracles that involve the transubstantiation of matter into the body and blood of Christ — has been showcased in a traveling exhibit that visited Cristo Rey Parish in Little Village two months ago. More than 500 Hispanic youth viewed the exhibit, which explained 158 miracles from 22 countries, according to Dr. Tom Howard, a coordinator of religious education and youth ministry programs at Cristo Rey.

Acutis’ work can be viewed the same way as that of Saint Thomas Aquinas, a famous Catholic philosopher who interpreted Aristotle through a Christian lens, Howard said.

“He didn’t create anything new. He just researched it all,” Howard said. “He laid [the miracles] out in a user-friendly way so teens could look at them” on the internet. “As a millennial teen, he bridged the gap between the internet and Eucharist.”

Source link

Leave a Comment