Young Creator of ‘Eucharistic Miracles’ Exhibit Can Be Role Model for Students
The cause for beatification of Carlo Acutis, the Italian boy who created the Vatican’s “Eucharistic Miracles” exhibit that The Cardinal Newman Society for many years presented at schools and colleges, has taken an important step forward. His heroic virtue at a young age and his positive use of technology could offer great lessons for young people today.
Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, Italy, recently declared that the diocese’s investigation into Acutis was complete, according to Aleteia. The materials collected will now be reviewed by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
At the age of 11, Acutis started researching and cataloging more than 136 Eucharistic miracles acknowledged by the Church worldwide over the centuries. Over the course of two and a half years, he traveled the world with his parents to visit the sites of the Eucharistic miracles, taking pictures and talking to locals. He published all the information collected online, and it also became a physical presentation endorsed by the Vatican: the “International Exhibition of The Eucharistic Miracles of the World.” The exhibition has been displayed throughout the U.S. by the efforts of the Real Presence Association.
In 2007, the Real Presence Association entrusted The Cardinal Newman Society with promotion of the exhibit to schools and colleges. Between 2007 and 2015, the Newman Society reached hundreds of students with Acutis’ exhibit, part of an effort to encourage students’ devotion to the Eucharist and especially the practice of Eucharistic adoration.
“The Cardinal Newman Society believes that devotion to the Eucharist is essential to Catholic universities’ Catholic identity,” said communications director Adam Wilson to the Denver Catholic Register in 2011.
Students gave stirring testimonies about how the exhibit impacted them on their faith journey. One student wrote:
It was a beautiful opportunity to be able to see a display about so many Eucharistic miracles. Some people don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, so I look forward to sharing some of the things I read in hopes that they will someday fully embrace the truth. These miracles are amazing and beyond our comprehension, but knowing that the Eucharist really is the Flesh and Blood of Jesus should make us want to run to Mass and Adoration! After all, a wonderful King awaits us.
‘My Life Plan’
Acutis died of leukemia in 2006, at the age of 15. The young Italian was a truly inspirational figure who should be seen as a role model for Catholic youth, yet many young Catholics in America have surely never heard of him.
Acutis had a deep devotion to the Eucharist. He put the Eucharist at the center of his life and called it his “highway to heaven.” A website dedicated to the cause of his beatification recounts, “Since he received his First Communion at 7 years old, he never missed an appointment with daily Mass. He always tried before or after the Mass to pray in front of the tabernacle to worship the Lord, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.”
According to Aleteia, he was also a “computer geek.” He was said to be “gifted at anything related to computers so that his friends, and the adults with computer engineering degrees, considered him a genius. Everyone was amazed by his ability to understand the computer secrets that are normally accessible only to those who have completed university.”
Like other young people today, Acutis was a child of the Information Age. It’s hard to imagine that he wasn’t aware of the cultural decay that has befallen Western civilization and the myriad temptations to sin that are a click away online. Still, he was focused on Jesus.
“To always be close to Jesus, that’s my life plan,” Acutis once said. Knowing that his illness would take his life, Acutis told people he was “happy to die” because, “I’ve lived my life without wasting even a minute of it doing things that wouldn’t have pleased God.”
Acutis was apparently able to see beyond the immediate personal satisfactions society offers young people around every corner. “Our aim has to be the infinite and not the finite,” he said. “The Infinite is our homeland. We have always been expected in Heaven.” Access to non-stop breaking news and the endless timelines and feeds of social media in the palm of our hand leads us to focus on the immediate at all times. All of the distractions of modern culture make it extremely difficult to focus our eternal reward, but Acutis had that focus.
Acutis may not have seen himself as a role model, but he recognized the importance of standing out from the crowd. He believed, “All people are born as originals but many die as photocopies.” Becoming just like everyone else is hazardous if everyone else is on the road to damnation. But if parents and teachers don’t present moral alternatives, it is likely that young Catholics will come to idolize pop culture celebrities instead of Saints.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, made this point recently at a diocesan conference for Catholic middle and high school students. He told the students to be rebels, and understand what it really means to be a rebel.
“Don’t tell me, don’t bore me, with this insinuation that the rebels are hip-hop singers, or rap artists or some pop star. Give me a break … They’re about as mainstream, and ordinary, and establishment as you can get,” he said on his podcast. “Don’t give me movie stars and pop stars. They are not the rebels. The real rebels are the Saints — the ones who stand athwart the ordinary view of things and the powers that be.”
But this can’t just be a message young Catholics hear once. They need daily reminders. Daily Mass, reception of the Eucharist and adoration — as Acutis practiced — can serve as powerful reminders of where our true focus in life should lie. Catholic schools and colleges can have a great impact on fostering this focus on Christ and on eternity among students, and it should be a primary concern for the leaders of these institutions.
At most Catholic colleges in the U.S. it’s clear that this isn’t the case, but these spiritual devotions are second nature to the faithful colleges recommended in The Newman Guide. Their programs and opportunities for students focused on spiritual development, which are enthusiastically embraced on campus, should serve as models for other colleges. Maybe then more young Catholics would come to love the Eucharist as much as young Carlo Acutis.
Adam Cassandra serves as editor at The Cardinal Newman Society. Follow him on Twitter: @adamcassandra.