On October 10, 2020, at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy, a remarkable young man was raised to the altars. Blessed Carlo Acutis lived a short life—born May 3, 1991, he died at the age of 15 on October 12, 2006—but during that time he gained a reputation for incredible holiness. He also helped spread devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, particularly through a website he developed to chronicle Eucharistic miracles throughout the world.
Fr. Will Conquer was born in France on May 30, 1989, the feast of St. Joan of Arc. The son of an American mother and a French-Canadian father, he was raised to appreciate different approaches to the spiritual life—his mother became a charismatic Catholic as an adult, and his father was very traditional in the practice of his faith. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Monaco, and was sent by the Parish Foreign Missions Society to Cambodia, where less than 1% of the population is Catholic.
During seminary studies in Rome, Fr. Conquer met the family of Blessed Carlo Acutis, and this had a tremendous impact on him. This was a young man two years younger than Fr. Conquer, who had such a tremendous impact and led a life of remarkable holiness. Blessed Carlo became a model and a spiritual friend. Fr. Conquer has written a book titled A Millennial in Paradise: Carlo Acutis (Sophia Institute Press, 2021).
Fr. Conquer recently spoke with Catholic World Report about his new book, and about the ways in which Blessed Carlo can be a role model today.
Catholic World Report: How did this book come about?
Fr. Will Conquer: A praise leader, an editor and young priest all in their 30s come out fired up from a talk given by Bishop Robert Barron at the World Youth Day in Panama City and wonder: what will we do for the new evangelization? What models do we have and what models do we offer? My editor-to-be asked me if I knew Carlo. Of course I did. For a young Christian like me, passionate about the tools provided by the Internet from Wikipedia, to ChantTools, I had roamed around a lot before realizing I needed a model and a guide to sail on those rough waves. Carlo was the answer to that prayer. And we hoped that he could answer the prayers of many more lost sheep in the Web’s many valleys of tears.
CWR: How did Carlo become so holy at such a young age?
Fr. Conquer: Generation after generation, God has brought forward models of holiness for the youth. From Saint John of the Cross to Saint Tarcisius in Rome, to Luigi Gonzaga or Maria Goretti. They remind us all that holiness cannot wait for tomorrow. What we work all our lives for, he accomplished in just a few years. Carlo on his deathbed told his mother that he had not wasted one minute of his life. Not that he did not leave them aside for games and recreation as well as family time which was so precious to him. Yet, he ran away from all the idle temptations. Since his earliest age he took the call to holiness very seriously and made it his top priority. It’s incredible how for instance we can say we “do not have time to go to Mass”. Somehow, he found time to attend Mass daily since the day of his first communion until his last breath! Let’s stop procrastinating our call to be saints, and let us offer up to God the best years of our youth and let his grace shine through.
CWR: He had an unusual loneliness; how did he deal with that?
Fr. Conquer: The young man’s unusual loneliness and how he dealt with it: of course Carlo struggled with loneliness. Only child, busy parents, city lifestyle. Who could be his friend? Who could he relate to? Carlo had only one option, and he chose that option to become one of the greatest friendships in modern times: Rajesh. His parents’ butler came from Mauritius and was born into a Brahmin family. He could just have a simple functional relationship with him, but instead it became personal. There is something fascinating in how children left to play together in a sandbox during their parents’ lunchtime will soon become best friends. This requires a certain simplicity of the heart, which not only Carlo had, but which Rajesh discovered once again with him. Though Carlo experienced loneliness, the presence of his best friend was a great support for him throughout his life.
CWR: One of the great things about Bl. Carlo is the example he can be for today’s teens, since he lived so recently and his life was so similar to young people today. Did he have platonic relationships with girls, and was that a hard area for him to navigate?
Fr. Conquer: How he interacted with teen girls who became his friends: long phone calls. Which means deep conversations. Carlo, in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi, truly believed in the possibility of a genuine friendship between men and women. Not platonic as in merely ideal but truly Christian, incarnate, and faithful relationships. The best witness to this is probably his cousin Flavia, but other of his classmates confirm that as well. This friendship was time-consuming, especially in hour-long conversations on the phone. Before FaceTime came out, Carlo’s mother remembers hearing the old rotary dial telephone ring and running to the living room to pick up the call only to shout “Carlo, it’s for you”, time and time again. These conversations showed Carlo would listen and build trust with his friends, who miss him to this day.
CWR: Bl. Carlo is well-known already for his devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and the website he created to document Eucharistic miracles. I understand his explanations of the Mass are used in some catechism classes in Italy today. What did he say about the Mass?
Fr. Conquer: “Jerusalem here and now” is probably my favorite. After extensive travel with his parents around Italy and Europe, Carlo grew more and more attached to the city of Assisi where the family had a country home. He could walk around the city, climb up and down the labyrinth of old medieval streets and stairs, and more than anything else, attend daily Mass. His parents asked him if he wanted to discover another destination and why not go to Jerusalem? He wondered: why go to Jerusalem if I can meet Jesus at my local church? The Mass is Jerusalem here and now for all of us to take part in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
CWR: How did he respond to the news that he was dying (something that would happen very shortly thereafter)? And does he set a good example for us to follow?
Fr. Conquer: Between the first signs of his sickness and his last breath, only four days went by. No one knows exactly how one will react to his own death, as it is an experience lived alone. For that reason, we pray for the grace of final perseverance. Carlo had seen other people, like his own grandfather, struggle with death and receive the last sacraments. But in the natural order of things, it is not something he could have expected so soon.
A few months before his death, in one of his videos (vlogs as we would say today) he said he knew he was destined to die. Yet, when the news came, just a few days before he was to inaugurate his exhibition on the Eucharistic miracles on which he had been working for so long, he just could not believe it. At first, he had faith that Jesus would heal him miraculously. For that, he prayed. Yet he quickly understood that his death was certain and so, he offered himself up with all his sufferings for the priests and vocations. All his exhibition was about helping priests and faithful to believe once more in the miracle of the Eucharist which they celebrate. In what I call a “transparent martyrdom”, he lived to the full that which he was calling to in his exhibition. Since then, the Vatican has considered accepting “offering one’s suffering in front of death” as a new path to holiness especially for the many models of child saints which have been brought forward by various groups of faithful across the planet.
CWR: Peer pressure is always a major problem in that age group, in particular. How did he handle peer pressure among his friends? What did he have to say to his friends who were promiscuous?
Fr. Conquer: Resisting peer pressure has become increasingly difficult with the invasion of social networks into every aspect of our lives at an ever younger age. But peer pressure existed before Facebook and it can be seen at various levels in Carlo’s life. On the most common level of peer pressure, Carlo had to suffer a certain pressure from “brands” and looks in his school’s playground. Carlo stuck to a very classic look, and refused to be “branded”. On another level, Carlo was undoubtedly a very bright child yet Carlo’s parents are very honest about their son being a “mediocre” student. Carlo did his homework, but his ambition was never to be the first, rather to do his duty. For that reason, when Carlo would begin his study on the Eucharistic miracles, Carlo would seek excellence, inspired by the entrepreneurs and artists he had seen at the encounter of Communion & Liberation in Rimini. Carlo did not try to do better or as good as them, he decided to do his very best so that the Eucharistic miracles could be known, not for his glory, but for the greater glory of God.
How he dealt with friends who were sexually promiscuous and what he told them: It is well known that another young saint, Pier Giorgio Frassati, had a great devotion to Savonarola. It is unclear whether Carlo knew about the latter but it is quite obvious that he was as uncompromising with lust and promiscuity. For instance, Carlo was a great fan of swimming pools. He did front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly as much as he played around with his friends. But there is one type of attitude he did not play around with: the various forms of harassment against girls that took place there. And Carlo did not simply disapprove. Without fearing for his own integrity, he publicly chastised those who thought wolf-whistling and cat-calling could be funny. It is not. What did Carlo tell them? Did he yell at them? Did he threaten them? None of the above. He told them plainly something much more daunting: “Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Beyond self-respect or puritanism, Carlo introduced his friends to a form of modesty infused with theology of the body.
CWR: Bl. Carlo just died in October 2006, not even 15 years ago. What made his cause for canonization move so quickly in such a short amount of time, to be beatified so soon?
Fr. Conquer: Saint Joan of Arc was burned alive on May 30, 1431 but it was not until 1909 that she was beatified! Why did she have to wait 500 years while Carlo waited only 15 before he would receive this grace? God only knows. Our Holy Mother Church has never failed to encourage us with new models of sainthood. And maybe it was more urgent than ever that we start to believe once again that sainthood is possible in the world we live in. We need to believe that there are and there will be more millennials in Heaven.
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