Carlo Acutis, the first millennial beatified by the church, is already being hailed as “the patron saint of the internet” (Irish Times 17.10.20) …
Heaven doesn’t have corners, yet somehow St Carlo was sitting in one.
He sat cross-legged, elbows resting on his knees, a can of Coke between his fingers. He stared out into nothing.
The older saints noticed, chatted briefly among themselves, and one of them came over. It was the saintly thing to do.
“Mind if I sit here?” he asked.
Carlo shrugged. “Whatever,” he said.
“Never mind,” said the older saint. He lowered himself to the floor beside Carlo, a process that took up quite a large amount of eternity. Eventually he settled.
“I believe that was called ‘getting down with the kids’,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re eight hundred years old. I’m Francis of Assisi,” he added.
“Carlo,” said Carlo.
The two sat for a while, backs against a celestial wall. Eventually Francis spoke.
“Tough day?” he said.
Carlo sighed deeply. “I thought it would be easy,” he said. “I thought it would just be people praying to remember their password.”
“That doesn’t sound easy.”
“Actually it is. It’s usually 1234, unless they’re English, in which case it’s 1966.” He saw his companion frown. “The year they won the World Cup,” he explained. “If they ever win it a second time the whole country will have locked themselves out of Netflix within six months.”
“But your day was more than that?”
“Lots more,” said Carlo. “Mostly people moaning about wi-fi. Even if they’re down a well that’s inside a cave that’s under a glacier and they don’t have a phone with them, they’re moaning about wi-fi.
“And so much more. Cat lovers, looking for more cat videos. Dog lovers, looking for fewer cat videos. Influencers, looking for free stuff.
“Then there were people actually asking how to illegally stream TV shows. Like, hello? Do they not notice the word ‘saint’ in the phrase ‘patron saint’?
“And there were the impossible questions. What does Error 404 mean? Why do I have to keep ticking traffic lights? Why does Microsoft suddenly close all my stuff and run updates? I mean, I have no idea. I’m not God.”
“God doesn’t know either,” said Francis. “Trust me on this.”
“And there were trolls,” said Carlo.
“Seriously?” said Francis.
“Yep, they’d comment on people’s prayers, call them deluded and pathetic. I told one of them to show some compassion and he called me a virtue signaller.”
He sighed again. “I mean, I have the whole internet to cover. It’s just so hard, there’s so much of it.”
“I look after animals,” said Francis quietly. “All of them.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t say they do a lot of praying,” said Carlo. “Apart from the praying mantis.”
“Lol,” said Francis. Carlo glared at him.
“Well, it’s true that they don’t pray very often,” said Francis, “but when they do it tends to be quite urgent and in large numbers. For example, when a whole flock of sheep sees an approaching wolf the sound is like being trapped inside a deflating bagpipes. And two thousand lemmings all squeaking ‘oh shit’ in your head is not something that’s easily forgotten when you’re lying awake at night.”
“I suppose not,” muttered Carlo.
“It is very hard,” said Francis, “when they pray and you can’t help them.” He turned and looked into Carlo’s eyes. “That’s what’s really bothering you, isn’t it?” he said softly.
Carlo nodded glumly. “It’s the ‘like’s,” he said. “They all want them, so desperately – on their memes, on their opinions, on their avo photos. And I can’t give them to them.”
“They’re human,” said Francis. “They need to feel loved.”
“But they are loved,” said Carlo. “They have friends in the real world.”
“Making them see that is the challenge,” said Francis. “And you care enough about them to be upset. That’s a start.”