Winthrop parish hosts Blessed Carlo Acutis relics, exhibit

WINTHROP -- Fannie Massa reached out her hands, curled them around the gold reliquary and lifted it off of its pedestal. In her hands were two first-class and two second-class relics belonging to Blessed Carlo Acutis, the 15-year-old computer programmer and devout Catholic who was beatified in 2020. She contemplated each small fragment housed within the reliquary -- a piece of Carlo's skin, a strand of his hair, a thread of his clothing, and a fragment of his original coffin. Beside the reliquary was a picture of Carlo in his new glass coffin in Assisi, allowing him to be viewed by the pilgrims who come to venerate him. In eternal rest, the boy wears his now-iconic windbreaker, jeans, and sneakers.

"I believe in miracles," Massa told Eileen Wood, who received Carlo's relics from his mother Antonia.

Massa prayed that Carlo's intercession would heal her carpal tunnel syndrome. She and dozens of others visited St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Winthrop on the weekend of Jan. 13 and 14 to venerate Carlo's relics and see the extensive exhibition on Eucharistic miracles that he compiled before his death from leukemia in 2006.

"It's super cool," said St. John's Youth Minister Michelle Benne. "I just love that there is tangible evidence of our faith aside from the Eucharist. The saints are here to pray for us."

Benne said that such an exhibit is one of many ways to introduce the faith to young people. She was wearing a t-shirt parodying merchandise from Taylor Swift's latest tour, with images of Pope St. John Paul II replacing the pop star.

"I feel like a lot of the time, the kids feel that the faith is something that is 2,000 years old," she said. "To have such a young saint in this millennium is really cool, for the kids to realize that sainthood is achievable for them. That is the mission of the church. That we're all called to sainthood, that we're all called to holiness."

"It's indescribable," said Kelli Gaynor, who prayed for Carlo's intercession to heal a medical ailment. "I've never felt anything like this before."

The Vatican International Exhibit of Eucharistic Miracles has appeared on five continents and in dioceses throughout the U.S. Wood and her husband have traveled across New England with the exhibit, which was researched and written largely by Carlo himself.

"It's an honor for me to be able to do this," Wood told The Pilot. "It's busy, but it's good. At this point it's every weekend."

Wood has led perpetual adoration at St. William of York Parish in Tewksbury for 17 years. She started displaying Carlo's exhibit in 2011, five years after his death.

Father Chris O'Connor, pastor at St. John's, encouraged her to bring the exhibit to his church.

"Carlo Acutis is someone that we want everyone to know about," he told The Pilot. "His great love for the Eucharist fosters in us an even greater love."

Demand for the exhibit has skyrocketed since Carlo's beatification and the National Eucharistic Revival, established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2022. Carlo and St. Manuel Gonzalez Garcia are the patrons of the revival, which will conclude in 2025.

"They just had a deep love and commitment for the Blessed Sacrament," Wood told The Pilot, "and it's a great example for all of us to deepen our commitment to the Eucharist. To remind us that Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament."

First-class relics of St. Manuel Gonzalez Garcia were also on display next to Carlo's relics. Such relics are extremely rare, Wood said, because when his tomb was opened up, his bones were almost completely disintegrated. His last remaining bone fragment crumbled when touched by human hands. The bone dust had to be collected to make a relic.

"We're a Eucharistic community here," Father O'Connor said. "The Catholic bishops have signaled that we need to emphasize that Jesus is really, truly, wholly present in the Blessed Sacrament. This was just a way to greater capitalize on the Eucharistic presence that we find."

In a lecture given in the church following Mass, Wood said that Carlo is significant because, as a holy person who lived in the modern day, he is approachable to young people.

"People feel like they can practically touch him," she said. "He is so real in our lives."

Carlo was born to a wealthy Italian family in London in 1991. Despite his privilege, he lived humbly and eschewed name-brand clothing.

"In many ways he was an average, normal, everyday kid," Wood said.

He liked to play video games, eat Nutella, play soccer, and hang out with his friends.

"We have home movies (of him), and he had a cell phone," Wood said. "How many saints had a cell phone?"

He played the saxophone and got decent grades in school, and excelled in his computer classes. He used his computer skills to create a website documenting eucharistic miracles. He was curious about Catholicism from a very early age, and his Polish nanny taught him about the faith. From age seven, he wanted to attend Mass daily. He said the rosary and attended eucharistic adoration every day. He went to confession every week. He befriended his classmates who were bullied or who sat alone at lunch. He personally delivered food and sleeping bags to the homeless.

"He just loved everyone and looked to people through the eyes of Christ," Wood said.

Early in the new school year, 15-year-old Acutis was starting to feel sick. A week later, he was in the hospital dying of an aggressive form of leukemia. He told his mother that he was not afraid to die, because he knew that he didn't do anything that was displeasing to God.

"What an amazing thing to say, right?" Wood said. "Wouldn't it be beautiful if we could all say that?"

His body was severely swollen. When the nurses and doctors asked if he was in pain, he told them that others were suffering more than he did, and he offered his suffering for the pope and the Catholic Church. He expected that he would go directly to Heaven and not spend any time in purgatory. He promised his mother that he would give her signs that he was with Jesus. Four years to the day after his death, his 44-year-old mother gave birth to twins.

Wood said that Carlo's dying words should be an invitation for Catholics to "start from scratch" and live more faithfully.

"How many of us want to be saints here?" she asked those listening to her lecture. "All of our hands should be up. All of us should want to be saints."

After we die, she said, "there's only two choices: Heaven or not Heaven."

Shortly after his death, Carlo's cause for sainthood was opened. He was determined to have lived a virtuous life but a miracle was required for beatification. That miracle came in the form of a young Brazilian boy named Matheus. Matheus was born in 2009 with a deformed pancreas. Unable to digest solid food, he weighed 20 pounds at age four. Any surgery would have killed him. The boy venerated a second-class relic of Carlo Acutis.

"As soon as he touched the relic," Wood said, "he was instantly and miraculously cured."

That night, he ate a steak dinner with his family. His doctors were baffled.

"When they did all the medical testing, the pancreas looked normal," Wood said.

For Blessed Carlo to be canonized as a saint, another miracle must be verified by the church.

"Someone here tonight, you could be the one," Wood said. "You could be the one that has some kind of miraculous cure that helps Carlo become St. Carlo."

Wood said she has documented four potential miracles that she attributes to Carlo's intercession, and has seen one of them firsthand. On Oct. 12, 2022, the 16th anniversary of Carlo's death and his feast day, she was displaying his relic at St. Rita Parish in Lowell. A Knight of Columbus removed his gloves to look through a book about Carlo, revealing a pair of swollen, chafed, and wounded hands.

"Everything was cracked," Wood said. "His hands were a mess."

He touched his scapular to the relic and prayed for "a deeper commitment to the Blessed Sacrament." According to Wood, his prayer for healed hands was an afterthought. The next morning, his skin was like normal, and he could bend his fingers again.

To her, the only explanation is a miracle.