Young readers in search of a hero will certainly find one in this dynamic, richly layered book about Carlo Acutis, the first millennial to be named a “blessed.”
Written by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi, a frequent contributor to the Register, Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven, tells the story of Carlo’s short life on earth — a life powered by the Italian teen’s love for the Eucharist and the Church and lived joyfully in today’s world filled with soccer games, moviemaking, beloved pets, computers and friends. “Carlo’s story,” Ferrisi said in an email interview with the Register, “could be the story of any family living in the West. He lived a normal life. He had a TV, a PlayStation, a laptop. He did afterschool activities. He had a mother who worked full time. He wore jeans and sneakers.”
His was an intentional, faith-filled life. “To always be united to Jesus, this is my life’s plan,” Carlo wrote when he was only 7 years old. His goal was heaven — and, judged by the merits of his life, he wanted to lead others there, too.
“Carlo shows us how to live holiness within the context of our times, and within the normal activities of the everyday life of a teenager. He shows us that holiness is within reach,” the author says. The plan he described as a small boy took shape as he matured: Daily Mass and Rosary, time spent reading the Bible, and prayer were companions to being a good friend to his classmates, being a good son to his parents, and helping those in need.
From an early age, Carlo — accompanied by an adult — went out most evenings to take food to the homeless in Milan and often used his savings to buy blankets for the men and women he met. “Carlo did not let life just happen to him,” Ferrisi told the Register.
“He lived everything within the context of his relationship to Jesus, who was his best friend.”
And Carlo found many other friends along the way to inspire him: the saints. St. Francis of Assisi, Ferrisi says, was his greatest role model. “Both came from well-to-do families — but thing to live simply. Both were concerned about the poor, and both were passionate about the Eucharist.”
Carlo often said that the Eucharist was his “highway to heaven.”
It was a highway that he wanted others to travel, too. As an assistant catechist, Carlo recognized that many children in his parish did not understand the true meaning of the Eucharist. Seeking ways to inspire them, Carlo, a computer whiz who learned coding when he was 8 years old, created a “Eucharistic Miracles” website. Four years in the making and now translated into 17 languages, his website was the launching point for a later photographic exhibit that continues to travel the world. He also developed websites on “Angels and Demons,” “Hell and Purgatory” and “Marian Apparitions,” choosing always to use his tech skills to spread the faith.
“He has brought about a fresh New Evangelization, especially with regards to his spotlight on Eucharistic miracles,” Ferrisi says. That New Evangelization, and how he contributed to it, according to the author, makes Carlo an awesome role model for our time and makes holiness both relatable and attractive to young people.
It was his core relatability to others — which the Congregation for the Causes of Saints later described as his “affable temperament” and “open and jovial character” — that made him a natural leader who was quick to stand up for bullied kids, invite the excluded, and reach out to the marginalized.
His exuberance in living his faith drew people to him — and to Christ.
While there is much to be learned from Blessed Carlo’s witness, there is also a lesson to be gained from his efforts to overcome what he saw as his own shortcomings: for example, talking too much, eating too much, and not always concentrating when praying .
Ferrisi relates how Carlo kept a notebook in which he wrote, “What does it serve a man to win a thousand battles if he is unable to conquer himself?” He knew the importance, she says, of overcoming bad habits that keep us from the greatness and happiness God wants for us. Her book touches on the steps Carlo took to replace failings with greater virtue.
In writing Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in HeavenFerrisi approached it as a typical biography, starting with his birth and ending with his death at age 15 from an aggressive form of acute leukemia.
Between those milestones, Ferrisi paints a picture of Carlo’s family and school life, his many interests, and his devotions and thoughts on the spiritual life. What is not typical is that the biography reaches beyond death (“Carlo’s Life After Death — The Miracle” and “Beatification”), reflecting his “Blessed” status. The author explains how and why this modern teen — whose ordinary life was marked by an extraordinary, evangelical faith — was beatified by the Catholic Church just 14 years after his death in 2006.
The book is packed with photos of Carlo, his favorite sayings, a timeline, and information about the beatification and canonization processes.
In addition to extensive research, the author’s personal interviews with Antonia Acutis, Carlo’s mother, offer special insights.
As a preschooler, Carlo questioned his mother so much about God that Antonia, then a non-practicing Catholic, began a theology class and a spiritual journey in which she rediscovered the beauty of her faith.
“Carlo saved me,” she said. Ferrisi says that Carlo’s mother remains in awe of the spiritual maturity her son reached in such a short time: “He was the light of his parents’ life in every way. He was able to be serious but also had a great sense of humor.” After Carlo died, Ferrisi says, his mother immediately thought, “Who will make me laugh now?”
Writing this book was the perfect fit for Ferrisi. Born in Italy and raised in the United States, where her parents spoke Italian to her, Ferrisi has worked in the field of Catholic journalism for more than 20 years, including with the Register and time spent in Rome covering the Vatican for various American Catholic newspapers and hosting his own program in Italian for Radio Maria. In later years, she reported on the Holy See’s activities at the United Nations for EWTN News Nightly. As the mother of four teens and one 21-year-old who grew up surrounded by technology, Ferrisi has a special place in her heart for the young computer enthusiast who loved Jesus passionately.
Ferrisi dedicates her book to her husband and her children. To her children, she writes, “Like Carlo, never forget that all of us can be saints in the 21st century. Making God the center of our life never leaves us with less. It makes us whole.” That’s great advice for her own children and great advice for both young and older readers living in an increasingly secular world.
Blessed Carlo, pray for us!
Blessed Carlo Acutis:
The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven
By Sabrina Arena Ferrisi
Holy Heroes Books, 2022
128 pages, $17.95
Ages 11 and older
To order: holyheroes.com
The Crawford sisters write from Pittsburgh.