News that a nerdy Italian teenager is close to achieving sainthood shows that the Catholic church may be busy with a great act of brand repositioning – appealing to the young and staying relevant to the moment.
The Vatican has credited Carlo Acutis, who died from leukemia in 2006, with a miraculous healing. A Brazilian boy recovered from a rare illness after praying to Acutis and asking him to communicate with God.
After this recognition by the church, Acutis, who was 15 when he died, will be beatified in a ceremony in the Umbrian town of Assisi in October. It will be the final step before sainthood and once a second miracle is approved, Acutis will become the patron saint of the internet.
That would be a unique addition to the Catholic Church’s canon of some 10,000 saints.
Acutis, who taught himself computer programming, built a website that catalogued eucharistic miracles around the world. The site currently says it is “an international exhibition designed and created by Carlo Acutis the servant of god”.
Servant of God is the title given to a candidate for sainthood.
The Catholic Herald describes Acutis as “a pious child, attending daily Mass, frequently praying the rosary, and making weekly confessions”. And Pope Francis has called the internet a “gift from God” and encouraged the use of technology to reach believers.
Although Pope John Paul II (himself later a saint) canonized more saints (482) than all the popes in the previous five centuries, Pope Francis has been even busier with beatifications and canonizations. He has already canonized nearly 900 people.
According to a leading Catholic journal in the US, there may be hundreds more saints under this Pope. America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture quoted Marc Lindeijer, who works on researching the lives of saints and martyrs: “Beatifications and canonizations have become an instrument of papal pastoral policy,” Lindeijer said, “with an active search and promotion of…women, laypeople, [those of] non-European origins and others to balance a bit the predominance of Italian and Spanish priests and religious on the calendar.”
Add to that the need to appeal to millennials and Generation Z, an important demographic for the oldest church in the world.
After years of bad publicity over the scandal of its predatory clergy, the Catholic church knows it needs to engage young people.
That is partly achieved – at least as an Instagrammable story – with Acutis on the road to becoming patron saint of the internet.
Jay Breeden, president of Catholic Faith Technologies, says Acutis’s beatification and later canonization could be seen as Pope Francis “sending a message that there is a place for technology and the continued growth of our faith and development of the next generation of Catholics.”
But Pope Francis is also using another tool for his outreach to the young. He is appealing to their idealism.
In November, again in Assisi, a gathering of students, academics and socially conscious entrepreneurs will draw up a document they hope will be a magna carta for a new type of economy.
It will speak of sustainable living and aim to create a circular economy. Kate Raworth, the economist who pioneered the “doughnut model”, will also attend. Titled “the economy of Francesco”, in homage to the nature-loving Saint Francis of Assisi, the group had originally been convened by the Pope for March.
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