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Teenager who died in 2006 will become the Catholic Church's first millennial saint


The Catholic Church is naming its first ever millennial saint.


Carlo Acutis - affectually (ph) known as God's Influencer - is now in the final stage of the canonization process. The teenager, who loved video games and died from leukemia at the age of 15 is redefining what sainthood looks like in the digital age.

MARTIN: With us now to tell us more about this is Christopher White. He is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Thanks so much for being here.

CHRISTOPHER WHITE: Great to be with you.

MARTIN: So why do church leaders believe Carlo Acutis deserves sainthood?

WHITE: I think, you know, for Pope Francis, if we look back over his last 10 years as pope, he's been really concerned about technology and its ability to do tremendous good in the world, but also its tremendous harm. And also, he's been concerned about young people. And in a strange way, those two concerns have kind of melded together. And they see the life of Carlo Acutis as someone that they can elevate who has encouraged young people to come back to the church and also use technology for good. And so that's why yesterday, the pope and his cardinals greenlit this canonization.

MARTIN: How are people reacting to this news? And I'm interested in both inside the Vatican and outside of the Vatican.

WHITE: Well, ever since his death in 2006, there's been a huge following that sort of sprung up overnight - folks just from all around the world deeply attracted to the story of Carlo Acutis. When he died, he was put in a tomb in Assisi here in Italy. And, you know, there are just streams of people here in Assisi every day coming to see and pray at his body. And in a particularly fitting twist, they've installed a livestream camera. So no matter where you are in the world, you can go and look at his body.

And it's a bit strange. You know, Catholics are used to thinking of saints as perhaps something from centuries ago. But I think the idea of a millennial, modern saint is something that inside the Vatican and around the world there's been enthusiasm and momentum because it is such a break from the past.

MARTIN: Is there something about his life that merits - I mean, can you just say more about who he was in life that causes him to be venerated in this way?

WHITE: I think one major thing is accessibility. I mean, he was known as this teenager who had a deep spiritual devotion and a real love for gaming. You know, he played Super Mario and Pokemon and things like that that teenagers can relate to. But he also had this real gift for, you know, being technologically savvy. And so he put those talents in service to the church. He created church databases and websites and did all sorts of volunteer work in that space.

At the same time, he was also known for his, you know, personal piety. He had a very prayerful life and wanted to visit the famous churches in Europe. And I think both his family and those that came to know him saw this as sort of a young man particularly devoted to God. And after his death, that's why they've decided to push this cause for canonization. Because I think for the family and those that were devoted to him and now Pope Francis, they're trying to signal that sainthood is something that is accessible even in the modern age.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, what are the final steps toward canonization?

WHITE: It's a long process that typically takes decades and sometimes centuries. But the next thing that will happen after this vote that took place here at the Vatican yesterday is that there will be a Mass at a time to be determined, either in the fall or in 2025, where Pope Francis will officially declare him a saint. And so from here on out, he will be known as St. Carlo Acutis.

MARTIN: That is Christopher White with the National Catholic Reporter. Christopher, thank you so much.

WHITE: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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