In photo above, Josue Barraza holds a poster of Blessed Carlos Acutis outside St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish in North Highlands.
When Josué Barraza, 23, moved to California from El Paso, Texas, with his family in 2018, he carried in his heart a still relatively unknown, would-be saint – Carlo Acutis, then Venerable – an Italian teen whose life was cut short by leukemia in 2006 at the age of 15.
“I heard about him because my dad used to work for the Diocese of Las Cruces,” Josué explains, sharing how Carlo Acutis became one of three patron saints selected for a youth rally. “I had never heard of him before. He was not popular yet, which is part of the reason I liked him,” he adds, also citing that as a teenager at the time, “I could really relate to him.”
Today, as the youth minister for St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish in North Highlands since October 2019, Josué also feels another bond with Blessed Carlo because “of my vocation right now,” he says.
“Wherever he would go, he would help people become closer to Christ,” Josué shares, conveying a list of qualities he admires in the holy millennial and a hope to emulate Carlo in his ministry. “He talked to anyone and everybody and tried to help them in whatever way he could,” Josué adds, correlating how when he first started in youth ministry, “I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I knew what I could do, and that’s what Carlo did. He focused on what he could do.”
What Josué could do was apply the patron saint idea to his youth group and introduce a whole new crowd of young people to the inspiring mission of Blessed Carlo. And his timing was perfect as the world quickly scrambled to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. Striving to restructure and continue ministry amid a surreal shutdown and no-contact situation, Josué first made the natural choice of naming St. Lawrence, but also the newly beatified Blessed Carlo Acutis, as his youth group’s patrons.
“I was already asking Carlo for help with the youth group,” Josué recalls, indicating that making the pick “official” seemed appropriate as he ventured into a different technological approach for his remote meetings. “We started asking for his intercession every night and sharing more of his story,” says the self-described saint fan who opted for a gaming platform to stream his youth group rather than deploying more common virtual meeting platforms.
“He’s relatable in that he played video games and liked Pokémon,” Josué notes, illustrating the suitability of their teen patron. He also suggests that any common ground established in saints’ stories attracts individuals to deeper, more meaningful faith connections.
“It’s really cool and mind-blowing that we have a ‘Blessed’ who loved the same thing that our youth love today,” Josué says, emphasizing how saintly role models offer “someone to look up to” and a window into the range of holiness.
“Playing video games doesn’t usually relate to holiness,” Josué posits, albeit countering this idea with thanks to Blessed Carlo whose own life demonstrated the impact and possibilities of technology. When used for good, technology can be considered and advocated as a means for youth to find social connection, camaraderie and conversation, such as they do with online video games, Josué believes.
Josué describes a ministry of about 30 members ranging from sixth grade to high school. Attendance fluctuates, “is not mandatory,” and gatherings naturally segue into online gaming fun at the end of the night due to the shared interest and experience among participants.
Learning from Carlo
Connecting with saints opens the door to learning from saints. Josué sees this happening right before his eyes as his youth ministry regularly presents and discusses the lives of saints and their feasts. He proposes that one of Blessed Carlos’ great contributions is his comprehensive website that chronicles more than 100 Eucharistic miracles around the world. Accordingly, his creation makes considerable inroads into the minds of doubters, who are “not sure if they really believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist,” Josué says.
“A lot of youths ask, ‘How can we prove this scientifically?’” Josué says, thinking of the question as the ideal prompt for him to share Blessed Carlo’s online digital masterpiece.
“We actually do have scientific proof,” Josué replies, directing and guiding the inquisitive young people to visit the oft-described “virtual museum.” He specifically points to many Eucharistic miracles “that were examined by unbiased scientists who were not Christian.” Josué summarizes how prestigious scholars, doctors and institutions have documented with modern scientific tests various Eucharistic hosts that were found to be transformed to “a piece from the heart that belonged to a 30-year-old man that died under great stress.”
Remembering one meeting earlier this year, Josué recounts how members spent time scrolling through the information and “they were so excited to learn” that they spent the entire evening talking about the Eucharistic miracles and all the scientific studies.
“You could see it in their eyes that they started to really get it,” Josué notes, genuinely moved to be able to “help Carlo spread that love for the Eucharist.”
Josué has seen how exposure to Blessed Carlo’s story stirs up a desire for holiness among his youth group members. Almost all are altar servers and many participate in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. After experiencing adoration only once, many “just want to keep going,” Josué conveys, pleased by the growing attraction to the Eucharist.
“Carlo is always promoting that … to get to know Jesus through the Eucharist,” Josué says, convinced of Carlo’s widespread influence and significance, especially at this time of National Eucharistic Revival.
Like Carlo, Josué is always promoting, too, in the way that Pope Francis encourages in his writings, “We cannot just say that young people are the future of our world. They are its present; even now, they are helping to enrich it.” Josué quotes the Holy Father’s wisdom, internalizing every word.
“My thing has always been advocating for youth, helping them and helping other people to understand how they fit into our Catholic communities,” Josué says, immensely grateful for Blessed Carlo’s teenage life, purpose and love for the Eucharist.
About youth ministry at St. Lawrence Parish in North Highlands at www.stlawrencenh.org/youth-group.
About Blessed Carlo Acutis at carloacutis-en.org/
Who is Blessed Carlo Acutis? An original! (1991 – 2006)
Josué Barraza, youth minister at St. Lawrence Parish, cites his favorite Blessed Carlo quote to sum up the man and his message.
“All people are born as originals but many die as photocopies,” Josué shares, pondering Carlos’ insight and the need to reflect on who God made us to be in this life. Without God, we can become something quite different – unfortunately, “a copy of a copy of a copy,” Josué explains expounding on the meaningful metaphor.
Blessed Carlo lived his words well, unafraid and open about his faith and relationship with Jesus. From the point of his first holy Communion, daily Mass, adoration and prayer formed him and his desire to share the mystery of the Eucharist with the world.
As with many young people, Carlo was drawn to technology and became very capable in programming. He enjoyed video games yet “wanted to remain unattached” and limited himself to one hour per week, according to his mother, Antonia Salzano Acutis, in her book, “My Son Carlo.” Carlo deployed technology to evangelize and do good.
Pope Francis wrote in Christus Vivit (104) that Carlo “knew how to use the new communications technology to transmit the Gospel, to communicate values and beauty.”
The cause for Carlo’s sainthood opened in 2013. In October 2020, he was beatified at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Assisi, Italy following the first of two necessary miracles for his canonization.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops named Blessed Carlo Acutis the patron saint of the first year of the National Eucharistic Revival and one of its intercessors.
Several parishes in the Diocese of Sacramento have hosted Blessed Carlo’s relic and presented exhibits in tribute to Carlo’s work to chronicle and share the Eucharistic miracles. As the Eucharistic Revival enters the “parish phase,” the local Church continues to turn to this modern Catholic hero for his intercession, so that the faithful may enjoy Carlo’s inspiration, and the grace of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.