Young people are often expected to be self-centered, immature, moody, arrogant and selfish.
But throughout the Church’s history, children, teens and young adults have attained holiness and modeled remarkable Christian lives that have inspired the faithful.
“Young people, do not be afraid to be holy!” Pope St. John Paul II said in his 1991 World Youth Day Message.
The list of beatified and canonized young people in the Catholic Church includes some well-known names: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti (24 years old), St. Catherine of Alexandria (18), St. Aloysius Gonzaga (23), St. Dominic Savio (14), St. Maria Goretti (11), St. Joan of Arc (19) and St. Thérèse of Lisieux (24), to name a few.
To that impressive lineup the Church is adding Venerable Alexia Gonzalez Barros (14 years old), Blessed Anna Kolesarova (16), St. Nunzio Sulprizio (19), Blessed Veronica Antal (22) and Venerable Carlo Acutis (15).
Pope Francis in recent months has advanced those young people’s causes after confirming miracles through their intercession or affirming their heroic virtue. Their life stories will be recounted in this space, with some anecdotes from people who knew them.
Last year, in a letter to young people that the pope presented to mark the presentation of the preparatory document for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, Pope Francis said that the call of Jesus, despite the noise and confusion of the modern world, continues to resonate in the hearts of young people.
“St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because ‘the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best,’” Pope Francis wrote.
Blessed Pope Paul VI — who himself will be canonized on Oct. 14 — in December 1963 spoke at length about how the universal call to holiness applies to the world’s youth when he beatified Sulprizio, who will also be canonized on Oct. 14 (see sidebar below).
“Nunzio Sulprizio will tell you that the period of youth should not be considered the age of free passions, of inevitable falls, of invincible crises, of decadent pessimism, of harmful selfishness,” Pope Paul VI said. “Rather, he will rather tell you how being young is a grace.”
The following profiles offer a glimpse of the models of holiness, at various stages in the sainthood process, that the Church is lifting up for young people today in preparation for October’s synod.
Brian Fraga is an OSV Newsweekly contributing editor.
Nunzio Sulprizio was born April 13, 1817, in Italy’s Abruzzo region. As a child, he was pious, attending Mass as often as possible. Both of his parents died when he was a child, and he was taken in by an uncle, a blacksmith who exploited his nephew by not allowing him to go to school and forcing him to work in his shop.
Sulprizio suffered from poor health for most of his short life, but that did not stop his uncle from forcing him to carry heavy weights over long distances in cold or hot temperatures. An untreated injury caused Sulprizio to contract gangrene in one of his legs. He was sent to a hospital in Naples.
Sulprizio later became friends with a soldier, Col. Felice Wochinger, who became like a surrogate father and paid for his medical care.
Despite his physical sufferings, Sulprizio was known to be a gentle, patient soul who often kept Jesus company before the tabernacle. He is known to have said, “Jesus suffered a lot for me. Why should I not suffer for him?” and “I would die in order to convert one sinner.”
Sulprizio met and impressed St. Gaetano Errico, a priest and founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who told Sulprizio that he would be welcome in his order when he was old enough, according to CatholicSaints.info.
His health showed signs of improvements, but Sulprizio would eventually contract bone cancer. His leg was amputated, but that did not stop the disease from spreading. One of the last things he told Col. Wochinger before he died was, “Be cheerful. From heaven I will always be helping you.”
Shortly after his 19th birthday, Sulprizio died on May 5, 1836.
In July 1859, Pope Pius IX declared Sulprizio venerable and in 1891, Pope Leo XIII praised his heroic virtue, comparing Sulprizio to St. Aloysius Gonzaga in that they both provided the Church with an example of youthful sanctity.
On Dec. 1, 1963, Blessed Pope Paul VI beatified Sulprizio. During the ceremony, the pope said, “Blessed are you young, young people, who have the time to do good. It is a grace, it is a blessing to be innocent, to be pure, to be happy, to be strong, to be full of ardor and life.”
On June 8, after the confirmation of a second miracle through Sulprizio’s intercession, Pope Francis said Sulprizio would be canonized on Oct. 14, during the synod on youth, in the same ceremony in which Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero will be raised to the altars.
“This blessed boy shines through the innocence of his life and the intimate participation in the mystery of the Cross,” Cardinal Angelo Amato, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, said earlier this year.
Said Cardinal Amato, “In a particular way, in light of the Synod of the youth, His Holiness has convened this fall, the figure of Nunzio Sulprizio is a model.”
Blessed Veronica Antal was a young holy woman who has drawn comparisons to St. Maria Goretti.
In January, Pope Francis recognized Venerable Antal’s martyrdom, declaring she had been killed at age 22 in hatred of the Faith on Aug. 24, 1958, in Hălăuceşti, Romania. She will be beatified in Romania on Sept. 22. According to information from the Diocese of Iasi in Romania, Veronica Antal “did nothing extraordinary, except that she lived her Christian vocation to a higher level than that of other believers.”
The oldest of four children, Veronica was born Dec. 7, 1935, in a small hamlet called Nisiporesti in Romania’s Moldavia region. The Diocese of Iasi in Romania says she was a devout, pious young girl with a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom she honored through the daily recitation of the Rosary. When she was around 16, Veronica enrolled in the Marian Association, which had been founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe. She had dreamed about joining the Convent of the Franciscan Sisters in Hălăuceşti, but those dreams were dashed when the communists took power and closed all the convents.
Still, Veronica nurtured a deep spiritual life. She attended daily Mass, often waking up at 4 a.m. and walking the eight miles to Hălăuceşti if Mass was not offered in her village. She took part in Eucharistic adoration weekly, said the Rosary whenever she could and read spiritual books. She also often visited the sick and the elderly, took care of children and taught them prayers in preparation for first Communion.
On the day she was killed, Veronica journeyed to Hălăuceşti to attend a confirmation. As she walked back home, Pavel Mocanu, a young man she knew from another village, accosted her on the road. She resisted Mocanu’s advances, and fought back when he threw her into a nearby cornfield and tried to rape her. In retaliation, he stabbed her 42 times and left her for dead. Veronica’s body was found two days later, face-down, lifeless and covered in blood, with her rosary clasped in her right hand and a cross of corn pods on her back.
“Those who lifted her from the pool of blood could see how she was gathering the rosary in her hands,” the Diocese of Iasi said. News of Veronica’s death spread both in her native village and to the surrounding areas, so that when her funeral took place the next day, the church at Nisiporeşti was crowded. Almost immediately, the local faithful began calling her St. Veronica and “the Maria Goretti of Romania.”
Every year on Aug. 24, the date of her martyrdom, the faithful in her home village and from the surrounding areas attend a Mass in her memory. Her cause opened in 2003. The Diocese of Iasi said Veronica Antal’s death was “the fruit of a holy life, the fruit of her fidelity to that God in which her young heart strongly believed.”
For more than nine years, the Archdiocese of Košice in Slovakia gathered dozens of witnesses, created theological and historical commissions and translated thousands of documents into Italian in the effort to beatify Anna Kolesárová.
“There are great movements of young people visiting her tomb in Vysoká nad Uhom. There is already one new generation formed by her message of pure love and chastity,” said Father Juraj Jurica, the vice-postulator of Blessed Anna’s cause.
On Sept. 1, she became the first layperson to be beatified in Slovakia’s history. More than 50 bishops, hundreds of priests and religious, and tens of thousands of pilgrims attended the beatification in Košice, Slovakia.
“As I watch thousands of young people and students I realize, that in spite of the contemporary lifestyle, there is huge desire for real, chaste love,” Father Jurica told OSV. “There is some kind of ‘nostalgy for purity’ in this world, and watching young people being attracted by Anna’s example of a chaste life, we are enjoying God’s call for holiness.”
During World War II, a Russian soldier shot and killed Blessed Kolesárová after she refused his sexual advances. The manner of her death has also led to comparisons to St. Maria Goretti, an Italian girl who was stabbed to death at age 11 in 1902 while resisting a boy who tried to rape her.
“We understand that almost all women would defend their integrity in such a brutal attack,” Father Jurica said. “But we are equally convinced that for Anna, the main reason for doing so was her faith in Jesus.”
Blessed Kolesárová was born in 1928 as the youngest of three children. She led a quiet, simple life in Vysoká nad Uhom, a small village near the Ukrainian border. She lost her mother when she was 13, and helped to take care of the household.
“But she had never neglected her spiritual life, Mass, frequent confession, regular prayers and the Rosary,” Father Jurica said. “That’s why she was able to shine when it was necessary.”
In late 1944, the Soviet Red Army occupied the village. She left a shelter where she had been hiding to prepare food for a soldier, who made several unwanted sexual advances. After repeatedly rejected them, the soldier fatally shot Blessed Kolesárová on Nov. 22, 1944. She was 16.
Blessed Kolesárová invoked the names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph just before she was killed.
In a pastoral letter read in local churches on Aug. 19, the Slovak bishops conference said Blessed Kolesárová had been “fully aware, despite her young age,” of the situation she was in, and that she “followed the voice of conscience” rather than “having time to think and philosophize.”
Since her death, thousands of young people every year have visited her grave, which is inscribed with the words, “Rather Death than Sin.”
Her cause for beatification and canonization began in July 2004, when the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared her a Servant of God. Earlier this year, Pope Francis confirmed that she had died “in defensum castitatis,” defending her chastity, uniting her to other young martyrs such as St. Maria Goretti. Father Jurica said he is hopeful that she will one day be declared a saint.
“She was brave in her life and in her situation exactly because she was inspired and attracted by God,” Father Jurica said. “Equally, we can be heroic in our lives following Christ. Holiness is the privilege for some, but necessity for all.”
On July 5 of this year, after meeting with Cardinal Amato, Pope Francis declared Alexia Gonzalez-Barros venerable after signing a decree recognizing her heroic virtues.
Venerable Alexia died at 14 years old from a malignant tumor that paralyzed her. But in the last year of her life, the Spanish native offered her intense suffering for the Church, the pope and others.
| Gonzalez is pictured with her mother, Moncha, after her fourth operation in Pamplona, Spain, in August 1985. CNS photo courtesy Sainthood Cause of Alexia Gonzalez Barros
In her prayers, Venerable Alexia often said, “Jesus, I want to get good, I want to be healed myself, but if you do not want that, I want what you want,” according to the official website for the cause of her beatification and canonization.
In an email sent to OSV through the Asociación Causa Beatificación Alexia, Venerable Alexia’s siblings told OSV that the pope’s recognition that their sister had lived a life of heroic virtue confirmed what many devotees throughout the world over the past 30 years have been expressing.
“In a special way, her calm acceptance of pain, her constant concern for others, her solid faith and her conviction that Jesus was with her at all times,” they said.
Alexia was born in Madrid, Spain, on March 7, 1971, as the youngest of seven siblings. She grew up in a devout home with parents who were members of Opus Dei. She made her first Communion on May 8, 1979, in Rome, next to where St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, was residing. That same week, she attended a weekly general audience and ran up to Pope St. John Paul II, who gave her a blessing and a kiss.
Alexia was described as a happy, normal girl with the same tastes and hobbies as her classmates. She studied, made plans with her friends and vacationed with her family.
The year before she died, Alexia and her relatives visited the Holy Land, giving her the opportunity to kiss the birthplace of Christ.
Her life changed on Feb. 4, 1985, when she was found to have a malignant tumor. She went to various doctors, underwent four long operations and received several painful treatments that turned the 10 months of her illness into a tough ordeal, which her siblings said she decided to face with peace and joy.
“To many people, what inspires them in Alexia’s life is her joy, her love for the Eucharist, her strength in the face of pain, the way she treated her friends, her devotion to her guardian angel and her completely normal life,” her siblings said.
Alexia died in Pamplona, Spain, on Dec. 5, 1985, surrounded by her family.
Her reputation for holiness quickly grew among the faithful. The cause for her beatification and canonization was introduced in Madrid in April 14, 1993.
Alexia’s siblings said they know many people pray for her canonization, adding: “We do not doubt the sanctity of our sister, nor that when God wants it, the desired miracles will be produced that will allow for her beatification and subsequent canonization.”
Whenever 3-year-old Carlo Acutis passed by a church with his mother, the precocious toddler would ask her if they could go inside so he could say hi to Jesus.
“That was something that grew inside Carlo. It wasn’t something the family gave him,” said Antonia Acutis, Carlo’s mother.
Not long after Carlo was born in London in September 1991, his parents settled in Milan, Italy. A “happy child” with a “fantastic smile,” young Carlo early on demonstrated a love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“He would say the Eucharist is my highway to heaven,” Antonia Acutis told Our Sunday Visitor.
At seven years old, Carlo received his first Communion at the convent of Sant’Ambrogio ad Nemus in Milan. For nearly the rest of his life, Carlo would attend daily Mass, praying before the tabernacle before and after the liturgy.
“He would say his life’s goal was to get closer to Jesus,” Antonia said. “Jesus was the center of his life.”
That early, intense religious devotion did not mean that Carlo was somehow weird, fanatical or had difficulty relating to other kids. Antonia said Carlo was “joyful,” “full of life,” that he enjoyed making friends laugh and had a “good sense of humor that was respectful of other people.”
Carlo enjoyed playing video games and was talented with computers. He was skilled at computer programming, web design and editing video. According to the official website for his canonization cause, people who knew Carlo “were amazed by his ability to understand the computer secrets that are normally accessible only to those who have completed university.”
“He was really a genius on the computer,” Antonia said.
Carlo used his formidable computer skills to research and catalogue all the confirmed Eucharistic miracles in the world. He was 11 years old when he started the project. He created a website to house the virtual museum of 136 Eucharistic miracles recognized by the Church. He also helped make panel presentations that have since traveled around the world.
“The more Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth, we will have a foretaste of heaven,” Carlo wrote at the time.
On his computer’s home screen, Carlo had a quote from St. Jacinta Marto, one of the seers at Fatima. Antonia said her son was deeply devoted to the Blessed Mother and considered the Rosary an indispensable part of his spiritual life. He was also concerned for the poor, believed in simplicity of life and often told his mother not to buy him expensive sneakers, Antonia said.
“One of the things he would say is that all people are born as originals, but many of them die as photocopies,” Antonia said. “Carlo wanted to be an original, not a photocopy.”
At 15 years old, Carlo died from fulminant leukemia on Oct. 12, 2006. Before his death, Antonia said her son offered his sufferings for the Church and for the pope. He was buried at Assisi in accordance with his wishes.
On May 13, 2013, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints granted the authorization for the beginning of Carlo’s cause for beatification and canonization. He was then granted the title of Servant of God. On July 5, Pope Francis confirmed his life of heroic virtue, and declared him Venerable.
Antonia, who was not church-going when she was younger, said Carlo lived a devoted life despite the fact that early on she was “not the ideal Catholic mother.” She said Carlo’s example moved her to get serious about the Faith.
“In a way, he was like a little savior for me,” Antonia said.
Pope Francis leads an ordinary public consistory for the conclusion of sainthood causes at the Vatican on July 19. The pope announced he would canonize seven news saints Oct. 14. CNS photo via Vatican Media
On Oct. 14, as the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment unfolds in Rome, Pope Francis will canonize seven people:
◗ Pope Paul VI, pope from 1963-78, who guided the Church through the completion and implementation of the Second Vatican Council and established the Synod of Bishops
◗ Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran churchman who was martyred while saying Mass (subject of OSV Newsweekly’s In Focus next week)
◗ Nunzio Sulprizio, an Italian teen who lived a life of great devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, despite a life of painful trials and illness
◗ Father Francesco Spinelli of Italy, founder of the Sisters Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament
◗ Father Vincenzo Romano, who worked with the poor of Naples, Italy, until his death in 1831
◗ Mother Catherine Kasper, the German founder of the religious congregation the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ
◗ Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa, the Spanish founder of the Congregation of the Missionary Crusaders of the Church
Photos public domain and CNS