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Carlo Acutis Evangelising a Digitalized World

In a media culture driven by following and copying trends, Carlo Acutis's startling message that God has a unique plan for each of us, speaks counter-current to our times, according to Theology student Hollie Frystal.

From Strabane, Hollie is a second-year student in St Patrick's Pontifical University, Maynooth. She also works with Derry Youth Ministry. Hollie has read extensively on Carlo's background and writings,in particularly how he presented 'Eucharistic miracles' to a new worldwide audience via digital platforms.

The celebrations commemorating the 150-year history of St Eugene's Cathedral included the blessing of a statue of Blessed Carlo Acutis by Bishop McKeown, on Carlo's birthday, May 3rd.

The statue of the Italian teenager wearing jeans and a polo shirt with sunglasses dangling from his collar and his hands resting casually on his hips, is in stark contrast to the formal, robed depictions of traditional religious art. 

Bishop of Derry, Bishop Donal McKeown blesses the newly installed statue of Blessed Carlo Acutis in St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry

It's a modern image of a young man who spoke of God to a modern world via a modern medium, Fr Paul Farren suggests.

Carlo's childhood coincided with an explosion of internet material and the emergence of social media sites. These technologies revolutionised the way people, especially teens and young adults, were accessing and sharing information.

A keen footballer and gamer with a natural proficiency for new media, Carlo used the internet as a means of spreading the Gospel message to a global audience. He was especially interested in the central mystery of the Catholic faith, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and in reciting the Rosary. And he began documenting 'miracles of the Eucharist' from the early church up to the 21st century. He developed this into an online archive and this body of work, translated into several languages, reached a vast readership.

Carlo's life took an unexpectedly tragic turn when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia. His health deteriorated sharply and he died aged just 15.

"He offered his sufferings for Pope Benedict XVI and for the church," Fr Farren explained.

"Carlo is a powerful example of faith for young people."

The statue is positioned near the baptismal font in an area intended to be "a dedicated space for young people to visit and offer prayers, and for us in turn to pray for them", he added. 

Spiritual influencer

A committed Christian, who believes young people are hungry for meaning and purpose in their lives, Hollie continues, "Faith fills a hunger in us."

This ancient religious theme, she says, finds renewed relevance in Carlo's message and lived experience.

"I remember coming across Carlo Acutis as a person when I was writing for the Tyrone Deanery on The Net, the Diocese of Derry Magazine. I followed the process leading up to his beatification with great interest.

"One quote really stood out to me, 'Everyone is born as an original'. It's quite a revolutionary message in these times – in the sense that we live in a media and online culture of copying and following trends, of making ourselves more alike.

"He challenges this by encouraging us to 'dare to be different'.

"He challenges young people especially, to get out there. In a world that is so diverse – he asserts that God has an individual plan for each and every one of us.

"The world we live in today encourages us to, in a sense, put ourselves on the market. "Human beings, are increasingly being treated like objects. Everything has become commodified in this culture, including people.

"Carlo speaks to a new generation living in these times – of a new evangelisation through technology.

"The Diocesan Youth Ministry in Derry took on his message. They have no set criteria. In my view, Christianity is an invitation, not to impose but to meet people where they are at.

"Depending upon people's response to that invitation, evangelism can take root in their reality."

Carlo saw the negative impact of social media in his short lifetime. But instead of decrying it, he used it as an evangelical tool, Hollie concludes.

"He brought evangelization onto a digital platform. He put out the invitation for us to respond."

Carlo's mother Antonia has gifted the Cathedral a first class relic in the form of a lock of her son's hair which is displayed beside the statue.

Author: Darinagh Boyle 

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