Rome Newsroom, May 30, 2023 / 12:05 pm (CNA).
The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book “Blessed Carlo Acutis: A Saint in Sneakers” by CNA Rome Correspondent Courtney Mares.
Blessed Carlo Acutis inspired the son of a Brahman Hindu priest to be baptized as a Catholic through the young boy’s joyful witness to Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist and his love for the poor.
In an interview, Rajesh Mohur shared the story of his spiritual journey and how he came to know Acutis, the computer-coding teen who was the first millennial beatified in the Catholic Church and a patron of the upcoming World Youth Day.
Mohur grew up on a small island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, about 500 miles east of Madagascar. Like most of Mauritius’ population, Mohur was a Hindu. He grew up speaking Creole and studying Sanskrit, the ancient language used in Hindu scriptures.
The Mohur family was of the Brahman priestly caste, the highest of the four castes in Hindu society. Mohur’s father was a Hindu priest who served as the president of the Hindu Association in Mauritius.
Mohur recalled: ‘‘[My father] used to teach me from the early beginning about all of their prayers … about the scriptures, Indian scriptures.”
At the age of 16, Mohur’s father sent him to India to continue his education in Gujarat, the city where Mahatma Gandhi was born. During his time in India, Mohur was even more fully immersed in Hindu culture and religious practice.
‘‘I’ve been to so many temples. I met so many gurus in the meditation center, and I met swamis,” Mohur said.
‘‘I witnessed all of those places. It was peaceful, you know. Nice. But your life doesn’t change. … I was in search of a living God.’’
‘‘My journey was always to find something that … from myself, deep down, I could not fulfill.”
After he was accepted to a university in Rajasthan, Mohur ended up staying in India, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in physics. He was planning to enroll in a master’s degree program in England when he received news that his father had died. Because his family was having financial problems, he felt compelled to go back to Mauritius to help his family.
Mohur increased his devotion to his Hindu prayers after the death of his father. He prayed every day, often with a sense of anger and bitterness. ‘‘I always prayed: ‘Why am I in such a situation?’’’ he said.
At that time, work was hard to find in Mauritius. Mohur had heard that Italy was not as strict as some other countries with work visas at the time, so he immigrated there to find work in the mid-1980s. After more than a decade of living and working in Italy, Mohur was employed by the Acutis family in December 1995 to help take care of Carlo.
‘‘And I met Carlo, such a small child,’’ Mohur remembered.
His first impression of Acutis, with his brown curly hair, was that he looked like the little cherubs seen in paintings and sculptures around Milan. On his second day working for the family, Mohur remembered that little Carlo approached him with a big smile and a gift — a piece of chewing gum.
On rainy days, Acutis would sometimes watch videotapes of cartoons based on the Bible and the lives of the saints together with Mohur, who watched with some interest because he had not had much exposure to Catholicism.
After Acutis made his first Communion at the age of 7, Mohur would walk with him to the church around the corner from his house for Mass or to pray on his way to and from school.
Mohur observed how young Acutis’ behavior changed when he entered a church. While Acutis prayed in front of the tabernacle, Mohur would quietly sit in the back and watch the young boy as he prayed earnestly.
‘‘His behavior changed when he was inside the church, with all respect. He knew that there was something different where Jesus lives. … That touched my heart … when I saw Carlo’s behavior,’’ he said.
Acutis was eager to talk to Mohur about the things that he loved: heaven, the Mass, and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He explained everything with ‘‘such a sweetness,” Mohur said.
‘‘He talked always about the Eucharist, Jesus, how he suffered for us … sacrificed his life for us,’’ Mohur said. ‘‘Carlo, he told me that … wherever you go, you may find Jesus present in Flesh, Soul, and Blood [in the tabernacle].’’
Mohur also observed Acutis’ care and concern for others. He said that young Carlo once gathered up his toys, including some nice Christmas presents from his grandparents and parents, and asked Mohur to accompany him to the park to sell his toys to give the money to the poor.
‘‘He collected the money, and there were some poor people lying there in front of the church. They were sleeping on the floor during winter. It was quite cold. … He said that they were suffering, you know. They needed help,” Mohur said.
‘‘When I saw Carlo’s acts, you know, of such a small child, then I got converted.’’
Acutis helped Mohur learn how to pray the rosary and invited him to pray it together with him and his parents.
“He had formed the habit … of reciting the holy rosary every night before going to bed,’’ Mohur remembered.
Acutis told Mohur that a person can pray the rosary without being baptized, but only practicing Catholics can receive the holy Eucharist. Acutis explained that the Eucharist is the culmination of charity and that the virtues are acquired through a sacramental life.
‘‘He knew the Catechism of the Catholic Church almost by heart and explained it so brilliantly that he managed to excite me about the importance of the sacraments,” Mohur said.
‘‘So, slowly, slowly … he used to tell me the importance of baptism and so many other things also,’’ he added. ‘‘All those experiences changed my life. And I could see the living God.’’
Four years after first meeting Acutis, Mohur was baptized. He was in his late 30s at the time, and as an adult entering the Catholic Church, he received at once all the Catholic sacraments of initiation: baptism, first Communion, and confirmation in a Mass at Acutis’ parish in 1999.
The Acutis family threw a party afterward for Mohur and his friends, sharing sweets and snacks at their apartment. Mohur let Carlo pick where to go out for dinner. He said that Carlo proposed: ‘‘Let’s go to the Chinese restaurant today because it’s a special day.’’
Mohur joked in reply: ‘‘It’s special for me, but it’s more special for you because you like Chinese food.’’ Joking aside, Acutis later told his parents: ‘‘There are many people who do not realize what an infinite gift it is to receive baptism.’’
After his baptism and first Communion, Mohur joined Acutis in attending daily Mass, but as a full participant in Communion rather than as an observer.
When Mohur’s mother came from Mauritius to visit her son in Milan a few years later, Acutis invited Mohur’s mom to come with them to Mass; she said afterward that she did not understand anything. Besides having little familiarity with the Catholic faith, Mohur’s mom did not speak Italian, so Acutis would speak with her in English.
He would sit in the kitchen with Mohur’s mother and tell her in English about Jesus and the Catholic faith. He told her the story of the apparition of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, in such a compelling way that she wanted to visit the pilgrimage site. With the help of the Acutis family, Mohur’s mother stayed in Lourdes for a week.
When she returned to Mauritius, she asked to be baptized. After her baptism, Mohur’s mother visited the sick in Mauritius and prayed with them, using some of the holy water from Lourdes.
‘‘That was Carlo’s magic,’’ Mohur said. ‘‘He could convert me and my mom, too.’’
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