Every now and then, great people walk the earth; people who make a powerful contribution to humanity. These people come from all walks of life and, quite 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, who is now on the way to becoming a saint of the Catholic Church. For the entire sixty years of his priesthood, Archbishop Sheen never failed to make a daily holy hour before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. His life, particularly his programme “Life is Worth Living” that featured on American Television each week, touched the lives of over thirty million Americans – Catholics, protestants and even many of those who professed to no Faith at all.
The Archbishop had been deeply inspired by the story of two heroic young girls, both of whom had a deep and profound love for Jesus in the Eucharist. One of these young girls is St.Therese of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower, whose story is told under Young Saints of the Eucharist on this website. Bishop Sheen wrote lovingly about Therese in a book called “A Treasured Love Story,” in which he refers to the little Chinese girl martyr.
When the Archbishop was interviewed on national television a few months before his death, he was asked: “ Bishop Sheen, you have inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you? Was it a Pope?”
The answer took many by surprise. Bishop Sheen responded that it was not a Pope, a cardinal, another bishop, or even a priest or a nun. “The one who inspired me was a little Chinese girl.” Just imagine, a little girl whose love for Jesus in the Eucharist so impressed him, that Archbishop Sheen, when he was only a seminarian (that is, training to be a priest), promised God he would make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day of his life.
The story of this brave little girl, Li, brings us back to the early 1950’s, to Communist China where God was not allowed to be mentioned and people who practised their belief in Him were either imprisoned, tortured or killed by the ruling political class who were all communists. Sr. Emmanuel wrote beautifully about her in the story she penned “The Amazing Story of Little Li,” in her book The Hidden Child, and here, slightly adapted is her account of what happened. Also included is some information from other translations, inserted to help understand the background to the martyrdom of Little Li.
The Tiny Steps of a Child
In a parochial school, children diligently recited their prayers. Their teacher, Sr. Euphrasia was pleased because two months ago, many of the children had received their First Holy Communion, and took it very seriously; from the bottom of their hearts. 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 but she understood why this was difficult for them.
“Well, it’s that ‘bread’ means ‘Eucharist,’” answered Sister Euphrasia. She explained that we need rice for the body, but that in asking for daily bread we are really asking for Holy Communion . This is the food for the soul and this bread is 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 that my soul can live and be healthy!” Since then Li, received Holy Communion every day, but she was aware that the Communists who didn’t believe in God 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 would never forget the day these 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, their 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!”
Little Li, who loved her picture of the Good Shepherd so much, attempted to hide it in her blouse. It was the special image given to her for her First Holy Communion. But, a loud slap on her cheek sent her crashing to the floor. The Inspector called Li’s father and humiliated him before the children.
That same day, the police made a sweep of the village, and crammed all the inhabitants into the tiny Church. The Inspector ridiculed their beliefs and he told them they were tricked into believing that God is present in the tabernacle. The people watched with disbelief, as with 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 all them, he grabbed the ciborium and threw all the Sacred Hosts onto the tile floor. Stunned, the faithful turned their gaze away from this awful man and the sacrilegious act he had just carried out, all the time trying to hold back their tears. Little Li froze in horror.
Her innocent and righteous little heart bled for the Sacred Hosts strewn all over the ground. “Isn’t anyone going to help Jesus?” she wondered in amazement. The Captain continued his tirade of insults, interrupting his blasphemy only to let out his horrible laughter. Li wept silently.
“Now get out!” the inspector yelled. “And woe to anyone who returns to this den of superstition! He’ll answer to me!” Before they left, the Communists locked the priest 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 however, they did not pay any attention to the small girl who remained praying in the Church. It was Little 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 Father Luke who observed, through the opening in his bunker, a beautiful, well dressed woman come into the church. She approached the little girl and comforted her, asking her if she would like to leave now with her. Li was very glad to do so and she broke into tears before they both left.
One month previously, foreseeing the takeover of the village, the parishioners had asked Father Luke, their priest from the Foreign Missions, to be careful. The soldiers appeared to have forgotten all about him when they left.
There was little the priest could do. However, feeling very upset at what had 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’ defence.
He prayed in anguish. “Stop this sacrilege! Lord Jesus!” Father hardly noticed the length of time he spent imprisoned. However, he did notice the arrival on the next day of the little girl who very silently came into the Church. Slowly, she made her way into the sanctuary and it was then that Father Luke saw her. He trembled: she could be killed at any moment! Unable to communicate with her, he could only watch and beg all the saints in Heaven to protect this child. He observed as she bowed for a moment and adored in silence, just as she had been taught to do in school.
Little Li stayed with Jesus in adoration for one whole hour, knowing that she was supposed to prepare her heart before receiving Him. Her hands joined together, she whispered a prayer to her Jesus who was so mistreated and abandoned. Father Luke never took his eyes off the young girl, and he 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 then remained there on her knees, eyes closed and in deep joy at having her Heavenly Friend within her.
Each second seemed an eternity to Father 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, and this type of purging was going on right throughout the “New China.” The villagers stayed quietly and in fear in their bamboo homes and were terrified to venture out. Yet, every morning, Little 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 disappeared quietly. Father Luke, concerned for her safety, couldn’t understand why she didn’t take more than one. He knew exactly how many Hosts had been in the ciborium: there were thirty- two of them 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 kept to all she had been taught because she knew just how precious the Host was: it was Jesus Himself really and truly present in it.
Father Luke was relieved when the last day came around. Today, Little Li would consume the last Host – her special Friend. At daybreak, she entered the church as usual and drew near to the altar. She knelt to the ground to pray very 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. Father 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.
For a moment, the soldier simply looked as if trying to make sense of the terrible thing he just did. Then, he turned and rushed out of the church. However, it left the priest in a state of shock, but he knew what he must do next. The soldier returned and he released Father Luke and told him he was free to go. Without any hesitation, he rushed to the sanctuary to see the lifeless body of the little girl. As he knelt beside her, the soldier approached him and, by now saddened at what he saw he had done to a small child, said: “Sir, if in every town there was such a little girl, no soldier would ever fight for the Communists!”
Fortunately, Father Luke just had enough time to give little Li a decent burial. As he left the cemetery and walked along the road, a man approached and invited him into his car. He dropped him off at the border. The priest escaped death and was now free and, that is the very reason we know about 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 from this world, her memory still lives on as it did in the person of Archbishop Sheen, and in the countless millions of people worldwide that he, through her story, encouraged to pray a holy hour as often as possible before the Blessed Sacrament.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen knew that Little Li understood perfectly that the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus, Light of the world and the joy of all hearts. O how He longs for people to treat Him with respect and to pay due reverence to Him in the tabernacle when we go into our churches.
- Karl Maria Harrer: Die schonsten Eucharistischen Wunder, quoted in America Needs Fatima
- Sister Emmanuel: The Amazing Story of Little Li taken from The Hidden Child of Medjugorje