An air of both excitement and reverence permeated the parish community of St. Dominic in Brick, Oct. 1, when some 1,200 worshipers gathered throughout the church complex to witness the dedication by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., of a new Diocesan Shrine to Blessed Carlo Acutis and to pray with his mother who was visiting from Italy.
PHOTO GALLERY: Dedication of new Diocesan Shrine of Blessed Carlo Acutis
Expressing that it was an “honor and privilege” to welcome Antonia Salzano, the Bishop referred to the path that her son is on, saying, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be the mother of a saint.”
Bishop O’Connell said, “My brothers and sisters, what a great joy it is for all of us today in the Diocese of Trenton, but especially here in St. Dominic Parish, where we will dedicate our first Shrine to Blessed Carlo Acutis.”
Blessed Carlo Acutis was 15 years old when he died in 2006. In his brief life, Carlo had a deep devotion to the Eucharist and the intense desire to help others learn more about it. He became known for developing a website catalogue of Eucharistic miracles as a teenager. Carlo died from leukemia Oct. 12, 2006. He was beatified by Pope Francis Oct. 10, 2020 and his remains are displayed at the Church of St. Mary Major in Assisi. He became the first millennial to be beatified by the Church in 2020.
Celebration of the Faith
The extraordinary celebration began with the 9 a.m. Mass, which was livestreamed on screens in the parish chapel and school gym, as well as across the parish and diocesan websites, where it was viewed by more than a thousand faithful.
Bishop O’Connell, principal celebrant, was joined at the altar by Father Brian P. Woodrow, pastor, and concelebrating priests from the parish and nearby parishes. Students from St. Dominic School and religious education program were included, singing in the choir, serving at the altar, carrying the school banner in the entrance procession or presenting a bouquet of flowers to Salzano.
In his homily, the Bishop used the day’s Gospel to emphasize how all are called to do the right thing for the right reason.
“It would be best if what we said matched what we did the first time around, but that’s not always the case,” the Bishop said. “It’s not simply a matter of our words or what we say but rather, what we do that makes a difference in life.”
Bishop O’Connell observed that “for the Christian, conversion is a way of life, it is a process,” although for some folks, conversion takes a lot longer than for others.
“In every case, the old saying proves true: ‘actions speak louder than words,’” the Bishop said. “I’m not saying that words are not important, but if they don’t lead to actions, they remain just that, words.”
Forging ties with Blessed Carlo
Following Communion, Father Woodrow thanked the Bishop for his support of the parish’s establishing the Shrine and for naming Blessed Carlo the diocesan patron saint of Catholic schools and youth.
Speaking to Salzano, Father Woodrow said, “Words cannot express our affection and our love for you and the fact you are here blessing us with your presence at St. Dominic’s,” he said. “It is an honor to have you with us here today,” Father Woodrow said, as the congregation erupted into applause.
Reviewing the history of the Shrine’s establishment, Father Woodrow explained that Father Marian Kokorzycki, parochial vicar, obtained a relic of the young man while attending a pilgrimage to Assisi in 2021. The relic was received in the parish April 28, 2022, at which time Bishop O’Connell forged a new bond between Blessed Carlo and the youth and Catholic students of the Diocese.
Father Woodrow spoke of Carlo’s having led a deep prayer life, radiating joy that originated from his encounters with the Lord through frequent reception of the Eucharist and other Sacraments.
After the final blessing, the congregation was asked to remain seated in their pews while Salzano, the Bishop and the clergy processed out of the church to the Shrine for the dedication ceremony. Salzano carried the reliquary and placed it on a pedestal in the Shrine.
Following the dedication, Salzano returned to the church to address the congregation. She rounded out her visit by greeting parishioners and signing copies of the book she authored.
Referring to the Shrine and relic of her son, Salzano acknowledged how heartened she was to see “signs of Carlo” in St. Dominic Church.
“This is a work of God,” she said, then led into her talk about the Eucharist, which was of utmost importance to Carlo.
"God wants us to be awakened toward the Eucharist," she said. Using her son's well known quote, "The Eucharist is the highway to heaven," Salzano spoke about the "Eucharist being the Real Presence of God among us," adding that God promises to be with us until the end of the world.
“And he is with us always,” she emphasized.
Recalling how Carlo often said that encountering Jesus is much easier today than it was when Jesus lived more than 2,000 years ago, Salzano pointed out that back then, Jesus went about his mission, was always surrounded by lots of people and it wasn’t always easy to have personal contact with him.
Today, people can walk into any Catholic church and encounter Jesus in the tabernacle. Salzano added that it would bother her son to know that concerts, sporting events and films featuring famous actors would draw crowds but attending church and visiting Jesus in the tabernacle did not.
“Carlo would say, ‘It’s because people don’t understand the importance of the Eucharist,’” his mother said, then emphasized that “the Eucharist is the most powerful thing we have in the world. That’s because [the Eucharist] is God among us.”
Salzano reminded the congregation that all people, regardless of their uniqueness, are called to holiness and “to be perfect like Christ is perfect.”
“To become holy, we need the help of Jesus,” she said. “Only Jesus can transform the world.”
A Great Day of Grace
“What a fun day today was,” Father Woodrow said as he watched the gymnasium fill up with people who stood in line, hoping to get a chance to greet Salzano and autograph her book.
“This is the Catholic Church now,” he said.
“It’s alive. There are families here, there are youth here, the Bishop is here, the kids are excited about Carlos Acutis,” Father Woodrow said, noting that every age demographic was present for the Mass.
State Assemblywoman and St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, parishioner Vicky Flynn spoke of the privilege it was to present a proclamation on behalf of the state to Salzano.
“What an honor it is to welcome Carlo’s mother to the U.S.,” Flynn said. She added how inspired she is by Salzano’s willingness to carry on her son’s legacy. Flynn shared that she was inspired by Carlo who is someone that young people can look to, to help keep them grounded and reliant on their faith.”
Hailey Curcione, a fifth grader in St. Dominic School, has been enlightened by all she has learned in class about Blessed Carlo and how “he’s really a good person inside and outside.”
Madeline Petillo, a third grader, honestly admitted her surprise at learning that someone who “liked video games like I do can become a saint.” She added that she thought it was “pretty cool” that a Shrine has been set up in Blessed Carlo’s honor at St. Dominic’s and looks forward to learning more about the future saint.
Mom to Mom
Hearing Salzano speak resonated with several mothers in attendance.
“We’re witnessing history today,” said Mary Jane Petillo. “It’s not too often that you get to live history being made. She added she was heartened that Salzano called upon people to pray the Rosary daily.
As a mother of three teenage daughters – 14, 17 and 19 – Flynn said she hopes they will be inspired by Blessed Carlo, who is their age.
“I hope that my daughters will learn from Blessed Carlo about how important faith is,” she said.
Kelly Curcione found the Mass and hearing Salzano’s talk to be “amazing,” and she is happy that her daughter, Hailey, is excited and interested in having someone who is her age to pray to and view as a positive role model.
Curcione said she couldn’t help but think about Salzano from the perspective as a parent’ who endured the heart-wrenching loss of a child at a young age.
“I can’t imagine what she went through, it’s sad,” Curcione said. “I look at my daughter and all I want to do is give her a hug.”
When asked how she would advise families who suffered the loss of a child, regardless of circumstances, Salzano said she would try and encourage them to place their grief in God’s hands, to remember that their child is now safe with Jesus and is no longer in danger and that one day, they will be together.
“They will meet again,” she said.
Father Brian Patrick Woodrow, pastor of St. Dominic Parish, Brick, introduces students from the parish school and religious education program to Antonia Salzano and Bishop O'Connell before the start of Mass. Mike Ehrmann photo