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15-Year-Old Computer Whiz Who Died In 2006 Could Become 1st Millennial Catholic Saint

A teenage computer gamer and programmer from Italy who devoted the final years of his life to the church until his death in 2006 was beatified over the weekend, making him the first millennial to be put on the path to Catholic sainthood.

A portrait of Carlo Acutis, who died of leukemia at age 15, was unveiled at the beatification ceremony at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Assisi, Italy. In it, he is wearing a red polo shirt and his curly hair is ringed by a faint halo of light.

Acutis has been called the "patron saint of the Internet." He created a website to catalog miracles and managed sites for local Catholic organizations.

"Carlo used the Internet in service of the Gospel, to reach as many people as possible,'' Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the papal legate for the Assisi basilicas, said during his homily.

Vallini kissed the boy's mask-wearing parents, Andrea Acutis and Antonia Salzano, after reading the proclamation by Pope Francis.

"He was considered a computer genius," his mother told Vatican News. "But what did he do? He didn't use [computers] to chat or have fun."

She told an Italian newspaper that from age 3 her son would ask to visit churches the family passed in Milan.

''There was in him a natural predisposition for the sacred," she said.

Acutis was born in 1991 in London and moved with his parents to Milan. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with leukemia after which he offered his sufferings for then-Pope Benedict XVI and the church, according to the Catholic News Agency. He asked to be buried at Assisi because of his love for St. Francis.

He was named a Servant of God in 2013 and declared Venerable in 2018. With his beatification, Acutis is named Blessed.

The final step, should it come, is canonization, or sainthood, which requires two miracles verified by the Church.

Acutis' first miracle was attributed to him earlier this year. The Vatican says he interceded from heaven in 2013 to save the life of a Brazilian who was suffering from a rare pancreatic disease.

Although it is rare for someone who died so young to be declared a saint, two Portuguese shepherd children living in the early 1900s who reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary were canonized in 2017 at the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 13, 2020 at 9:00 PM PDT
An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Carlo Acutis was canonized in 2013. That year he was declared Servant of God, the first step in the canonization process. This month Acutis was beatified. The next step would be canonization.
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.