From Church of the Holy Spirit, Stamford, Connecticut:
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Li, a Precious Martyr of the Eucharist
Every now and then, great people walk the earth who make a powerful contribution to humanity. They come from all walks of life and often they reveal that their real gift was inspired by an experience they had of someone else, whose words or heroic deeds touched them so profoundly that their lives took on a direction they may not otherwise have chosen. Such a person was the late great American Bishop, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, now on the way to canonization. For the entire 60 years of his priesthood, Archbishop Sheen never failed to make a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. His life, particularly his weekly TV program “Life is Worth Living,” touched the lives of over 30 million Americans – Catholics, protestants and even those of no Faith at all….
When the Archbishop was interviewed on national television a few months before his death, he was asked: “You’ve inspired millions. Who inspired you? His answer took many by surprise. Bishop Sheen responded “The one who inspired me was a little Chinese girl.” Just imagine, a girl whose love for Jesus in the Eucharist so impressed him, that Archbishop Sheen, when he was only a seminarian, promised God he would make a holy hour before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day.
The story of this brave little girl, Li, brings us back to the early 1950’s, to Communist China where the name of God was outlawed and people practicing their faith were imprisoned, tortured or killed by the communists. A nun, Sr. Emmanuel wrote about her in “The Amazing Story of Little Li,” from her book The Hidden Child..
The Tiny Steps of a Child
In school, children diligently recited their prayers. Their teacher, Sr. Euphrasia, was pleased because two months earlier they had received their First Holy Communion and took it very seriously. The children were used to eating rice morning, noon and evening so little 10 year old Li asked her why Jesus didn’t say “Give us this day our daily rice?” Sister smiled. “Well, bread means Eucharist.” She explained that we need rice for the body, but that in asking for this bread we are asking for Holy Communion, the food for the soul and the Bread of Life.
In May 1953, when Li made her First Communion, she had asked Jesus in her heart: “always give me that daily bread so my soul can live and be healthy!” Since then Li, received Holy Communion every day, but she was aware that the Communists would not like this and they could stop the Mass at any time. She asked Jesus to make sure this would never happen.
It did happen however!
She never forgot the day men entered the classroom and screamed at the children demanding that they hand over any holy objects they had. The terrified children gave up their carefully hand-painted pictures of Jesus, Mary and the Saints. Then in a fit of anger, the Inspector pulled the Crucifix off the wall, threw it down on the ground and trampled on it screaming: “The New China will not tolerate these grotesque superstitions!” Li, who loved her picture of the Good Shepherd, tried to hide it in her blouse. It was a special image given to her for her First Holy Communion. But, a loud slap on her cheek sent her crashing to the floor.
That day, the police made a sweep of the village, forcing the people into the tiny Church. The Inspector ridiculed them saying they were tricked into believing God is present in the tabernacle. They watched with disbelief, when in a thundering voice, he ordered the soldiers to fire at the tabernacle. All together the people began to pray intensely because their Jesus was in the tabernacle.
In front of them, he grabbed the ciborium and threw the Sacred Hosts onto the floor. Stunned, they turned their gaze away from him and the sacrilegious act he had just carried out, trying to hold back their tears. Little Li froze in horror. Her innocent heart bled for the Sacred Hosts strewn over the ground. “Isn’t anyone going to help Jesus?” she wondered. The Captain continued his insults, interrupting them only to let out his horrible laughter.
“Now get out!” the inspector yelled. “Woe to anyone who returns to this den of superstition! He’ll answer to me!” Before they left, the pastor, Fr. Luke was locked in the large coal bunker in the church, where a small opening helped him to see through to the sanctuary where the Hosts lay strewn on the floor.
The church quickly emptied. When the communists left, they did not see the small girl who remained praying in the Church. It was Li. As well as Li, there were the angels who are always present around Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to adore Him, and also there was Fr. Luke who saw, through the opening in his bunker, a beautiful, well dressed woman, approach Li, comfort her, and ask if she would like to leave now with her. Li was glad to do so. She broke into tears before they both left.
Earlier, foreseeing the takeover, parishioners had asked Fr. Luke to be careful. There was little the priest could do. However, upset at all that happened, there was still one thing he could do. He sank into prayers of atonement for the sacrileges committed against Jesus and suffered because he was not able to come to Jesus’ defense.
He prayed in anguish. “Stop this sacrilege! Lord Jesus!” The next day he noticed the arrival of the little girl who silently came into the Church. Slowly, she made her way into the sanctuary. Fr. Luke trembled: she could be killed! Unable to communicate with her, he could only watch and beg all the saints in Heaven to protect this child. He observed her as she bowed for a moment and adored in silence, just as she had been taught to do.
Little Li stayed with Jesus in adoration for one whole hour, knowing that she was to prepare her heart before receiving Him. Her hands joined together, she whispered a prayer to her Jesus so mistreated and abandoned. Fr. Luke never took his eyes off the young girl, and continued to observe her as she lowered herself down on her knees, bent over, and with her tongue, took up one of the Hosts. She remained there on her knees, eyes closed and in deep joy. Each second seemed an eternity to Fr. Luke. If only he could speak to her! However, his fear was gone when the young girl, with a gentle spring in her step, left the Church quietly and unnoticed.
Meanwhile, the Communists searched the entire village to rid it of anything holy. This type of purging was going on throughout the “New China.” Villagers stayed quietly and fearful in their bamboo homes, terrified to venture out. Yet, every morning, Li slipped away to find her Living Bread in the church. Like on the first day, she repeated the same routine of spending one holy hour in adoration of her Friend Jesus. As before, she then took up one Host with her tongue and left quietly. Fr. Luke, concerned for her safety, couldn’t understand why she didn’t take more than one. He knew how many Hosts had been in the ciborium: there were thirty- two and surely she would be seen if she came in each of those days?
But, Li didn’t do that, as Sister had taught the children they could have only one Host per day and they were never to touch it except with the tongue. The little girl knew just how precious the Host was: it was Jesus Himself really and truly present.
Fr. Luke was relieved when the last day came. At daybreak, Li entered and drew near to the altar. She knelt to pray, close to Jesus in the Sacred Host. Father Luke had to stifle a cry when a soldier suddenly appeared at the church door and aimed his gun at her. A single shot was heard, followed by laughter. The child immediately collapsed. Fr. Luke thought she was dead, but no! Grief stricken, he watched her struggle to crawl over to where the Host was, and could hardly believe his eyes when, in obvious pain, she put her tongue over the Sacred Host to receive her Jesus for the last time. She then drew her last breath and died: a true martyr’s death.
The soldier released Fr. Luke, and told him he was free to go. Without hesitation, he rushed to the sanctuary to see Li’s lifeless body. As he knelt beside her, the soldier approached. Saddened by his act he said: “Sir, if in every town there was such a little girl, no soldier would ever fight for the Communists!”
Fr. Luke gave Li a decent burial. As he left the cemetery, a man approached, invited him into his car, and left him at the border. The priest escaped death and was now free. That is the reason we know the story of this beautiful young Chinese girl martyr today.
Little Li was dead, but not before she had ensured that Jesus would not be further desecrated. Though gone, her memory lives on as it did in the person of Archbishop Sheen, and the millions that through her story, he encouraged to pray a holy hour as often as possible before the Blessed Sacrament. Archbishop Sheen knew that Little Li understood perfectly that the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus, Light of the world and joy of all hearts. How He longs for people to come to Him and pay due reverence to Him in the tabernacle when we enter our churches.
Christ giving Himself in the Eucharist