Venerable Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager and computer programmer, who died in 2006 of leukemia at the age of 15, offered his suffering for the pope and for the Church. He was born in London on May 3, 1991 to Italian parents who soon returned to Milan. He was a pious child, attending daily Mass, frequently praying the rosary, and making weekly confessions. Acutis’ mother, Antonia Salzano, said this of Carlo “Jesus was the center of his day. Carlo really had Jesus in his heart, really the pureness … When you are really pure of heart, you really touch people’s hearts,” Exceptionally gifted in working with computers, Acutis developed a website which catalogued Eucharistic miracles. This website was the genesis of The Eucharistic Miracles of the World, an international exhibition which highlights such occurrences.
With Pope Francis’ approval of the miracle promulgated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints Feb. 21 2020, Acutis can now be beatified. The miracle involved the healing of a Brazilian child suffering from a rare congenital anatomic anomaly of the pancreas in 2013. The Medical Council of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes gave a positive opinion of the miracle in November 2019.
Pope John Paul II ignited rapport with young people in the early years of his papacy. For example, on his first visit to the United States in October 1979, he wooed tens of thousands of teenagers at Madison Square Garden in New York City. With school bands blaring popular music, he rode the “popemobile” up and down the aisles, greeting the kids and touching their outstretched hands. A riot of cheers echoed in the hall. At one point the youth began to chant “John Paul II, we love you!” The pope, smiling broadly, responded with, “woo-hoo-woo, John Paul II, he loves you.” This cheer sums up one reason why young people rallied around him: He won their affection because they could feel his love for them.
Karol Wojtyla discovered his charism for relating to youth early in his priesthood. He served as a chaplain to university students in Krákow. He invited these young men and women to join him at weekday Masses, gave them conferences, and took them hiking and kayaking. Gradually, an informal community of young people formed around the future pope, sharing their lives with him. He was able to lead them to Christ and help them develop a modern Catholic lifestyle. He called this group his “Srodowisko,” which meant his “accompaniment,” and they became his lifelong friends. As Pope John Paul II looked back on the days of his Srodowisko, his vision for World Youth Days was born. He realized that if he could accompany a small group of university students, he could also accompany the youth of the world and become their friend.
In 1985 a quarter million young people gathered around him in Rome, and youth in dioceses throughout the world celebrated the first official World Youth Day (WYD) in 1986. Then the pope invited youth biennially to WYDs with him at international sites, beginning in 1987 at Buenos Aires. In alternate years, dioceses everywhere sponsored WYDs. Millions of young people from all over the world attended these joyous international celebrations. In fact, the closing Mass of the 1995 WYD in Manila drew five to seven million people, probably the largest gathering in human history.
Pope John Paul II earned the confidence of youth because he took them seriously. They sensed that he understood their concerns. He challenged them to give their lives to Christ. He appealed to their high ideals, inviting them to take a lead in the New Evangelization.