How Carlo Acutis’ faith and suffering led his mother to God
Antonia Salzano was just like most Italian women – busy living her life and nominally Catholic, if that. But her son Carlo was noticeably different …
The mother of Blessed Carlo Acutis, a remarkable Catholic teen who many hope will soon be canonised, has spoken about the extraordinary effect that her son had on her life.
Blessed Carlo, who died of leukemia aged 15 in 2006 and was beatified in 2020, is a thoroughly modern saint known, among other things, for being an amateur computer programmer and an avid gamer who was regarded by friends as a ‘computer geek.’
On the occasion of the 12 October release of her book The Secret of My Son (“Il segreto di mio figlio,” not yet available in English), Antonia Salzano spoke with the Catholic news website Aleteia, testifying to the “extraordinary ordinary life” of her son Carlo, who had an infinite love for Jesus in the Eucharist.
Blessed Carlo has become a source of inspiration for young and old alike, often cited by the Pope himself as a model to follow.
Antonia, you are the mother of Blessed Carlo Acutis. Tell us what your secret is. What did you do to raise a saint?
Personally, I didn’t do anything; I only gave my son the educational foundations that all parents should give. Carlo went to a kindergarten where he received a religious education. I had him baptized, but I was born into a secular family. My father was an editor, constantly surrounded by writers, and in this environment I had absolutely never heard anyone talk about faith. My first Mass was my First Communion, my second Mass was my Confirmation, and my third Mass was my wedding.
I say this to emphasise that it was my son Carlo who taught me everything. Even as a child, he showed great piety: At the age of 3, when we passed in front of a church, he wanted to go in, greet Jesus on the cross and Jesus in the tabernacle, and bring little flowers to Our Lady. At the age of four and a half, he was reading the Bible and the lives of the saints and was praying the Rosary. If in the case of St. Therese of Lisieux, her parents were the great educators; in the case of Carlo, the roles were reversed. He was my little saviour, and above all he was my great educator in the faith.
What made Carlo different from other young people of his age?
As John Paul II said, when we open the doors to Christ, our lives change. Every ordinary life becomes extraordinary if it is lived in Christ, for Christ, and with Christ. This is what Carlo did. And he did this in every situation, from the smallest thing to the biggest, such as helping out at home, helping children who were victims of bullying, or those in difficulty who had a disability, or the homeless, bringing them food and blankets. His commitment was mainly in the apostolate.
At the age of 9, he was reading computer engineering textbooks that he had bought at the Polytechnic University of Milan. He learned algorithms with which he created programs, then websites for parishes, the Jesuits, the Vatican. He didn’t do it for his personal glory but for the glory of Heaven.
To achieve that, he spent hours on it. And in the summer, instead of having fun, he would stay at his computer until 3 a.m. He wanted to spread the Good News, the Gospel, and he used his extraordinary skills to proclaim Christ and help others come closer to God.
Carlo also created exhibitions on different topics of the Christian faith, including an exhibition on Eucharistic miracles that was a huge success. How did this project come about and what fruit has it borne?
The exhibition on Eucharistic miracles is now touring the world, on all continents. In the United States, it has been displayed in more than 10,000 parishes. Then in Singapore, China, Japan, Africa, India… It’s an international exhibition. Carlo started collecting material in 2000, when he was 9 years old. We had gone on a pilgrimage to Lanciano and he was very impressed by that Eucharistic miracle. From there came the idea of doing something that would shake up people’s consciences, get them out of their torpor, out of their lukewarmness. Because there’s no longer this awareness that Christ is really present in the consecrated bread and wine.
As you can see, the pews are always empty in front of the tabernacles. This is how the exhibition was born and spread all over the world, immediately after his death. Carlo immediately had a reputation as a saint because people knew that he was a young man whose life was consistent with what he believed in. Why do saints attract? Because Christ is hidden in them, they are Christ-bearers. Carlo always said that we must “Eucharistise” ourselves, because then we become contagious with Christ. “Being always united to Jesus: that is my program of life,” he used to say.
In your book, The Secret of My Son Carlo Acutis, you say that you had the intuition that your son would leave the earth prematurely. Had the Lord prepared you for this trial?
Yes, I had this inner feeling in front of the relic of the veil of the Virgin Mary, in your beautiful cathedral of Chartres. It’s a special place with a great spirituality because it’s a place where people have been praying for centuries. Even Carlo, who was so close to Jesus—he didn’t realise it, but he told us things that came true afterwards. For example, since he was a child, he used to say that he would always stay young and that he would die because of a vein in his brain that would break (this is what happened due to his leukemia). He also said that when he weighed 70 kg he would die. And that’s what happened.
When the leukemia started, he came to the hospital and said, “Mum, I’m not going to make it out of here alive, I want you to know that, but I’m going to send you lots of signs.” He was very serene, always with a smile; he never complained. If someone asked him, “Are you suffering?” he would answer, “There are people who suffer more than I do.”
He gave an example of holiness in death. I understood that I couldn’t complain, that it was the supreme will of God: Carlo was ready and ripe for Heaven. He was a boy of perfect and upright life, of extraordinary purity, generosity, goodness… We’ve never had the slightest doubt that he’s already in Heaven.
When your son was exhumed, his body was found in an extraordinary state. Today he is in Assisi, in the Shrine of the Stripping, and his heart is in a reliquary in the Basilica of St. Francis. Can you talk to us about his relics?
Indeed, Carlo was found intact. They were able to dress him. His organs were intact as well as his heart, which was then carried in procession during Carlo’s beatification in Assisi. Relics are useful because the saints, who have many merits in Heaven, can intercede so that the Lord may grant miracles.
Let us never forget that all this is a work of the Lord. When people come into contact with these relics, or when the relics are exhibited or carried in procession, there are healings and deliverances. They do a great deal of good, and this isn’t new.
In fact, the Church has always venerated the relics of the saints, since the first centuries of Christianity. So we continue this tradition of the Church.
Carlo Acutis was proclaimed Blessed on October 10, 2020. Do you think your son will be canonised soon? What is needed for that?
We hope so. For the canonisation, another miracle needs to be recognized by the medical commission. We’re optimistic because we see a lot of them. Every other day we receive news about possible miracles: cancer cures, malformed people who were cured without surgery, people who couldn’t have children… Then the Church will analyse them in due time. It’s important to know that we aren’t proposing ten at a time, but one at a time, and then it takes months to analyse each one.
Depending on the type of miracle, all the doctors have to agree, as for the miracle of beatification. Then it goes to the theological commission and then to the commission of cardinals. This is the route. And in the end, the Pope has the last word.
Carlo was a young man who went against the grain. We live in a world where it’s difficult to follow God unreservedly. What advice would your son give to young people today?
Surely to be an influencer of God, not an influencer of nothing. The things of the earth are things that pass away and will no longer exist. What will remain is how much we have loved God, above all, and our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus says to each of us: “Go into all the world. Proclaim the Gospel.” He calls us all to be apostles, no matter what our state in life. So first of all, let us respond and be Christ-bearers.
I say to young people: Don’t trivialise your life, always be connected with Heaven, and in order to be connected we must pray. If we pray, God guides us and we’re more docile to his inspirations, to go and walk straight on the right path.
So, Carlo is a young man of your time, who lived what you live, with the same dangers, joys, and sorrows. He knew how to resist and win his fight. Win yours! Know that Jesus is a great friend and that the sacraments are great means. Take advantage of this great opportunity!
Antonia, could you conclude with a prayer for all the readers in the world, through the intercession of your son, Blessed Carlo Acutis?
As Carlo used to say, “Not me, but God; not my own self-esteem, but the Glory of God.” Lord, may your will always be done. Let us never forget to ask your holy Mother for help. May she always be a safe refuge for us! Do not forget her call to pray the rosary every day. It’s a very powerful means to which the Holy Trinity has given an extraordinary power.
So let us take advantage of it and follow the advice of Heaven. Let us not forget to go to Eucharistic Adoration and Holy Mass every day, and if this is not possible, let us pray to be able to go more often. This is what we must ask from the Lord: spiritual graces above all, to heal our souls and be ready to go directly to Heaven. This is what I ask for you, readers! Carlo … pray for us!
This interview first appeared on www.aleteia.org