Gregorio Li (1st left) 1947

For not accepting the communist ideology, Gregorio Li, an Augustinian Recollect, lost his job, put his life at risk, and ended up confined in Qinhai province, where he ended his days, after having spent fifteen years in prison and hard labor.

Father Gregory Li was born on March 29, 1917, in Lichuang, in the subprefecture of Hsiayi in a pagan family. His town was two kilometers south of the missionary center from Palichoang, where he had Christian relatives. From them, he learned that a school was opened in Kweiteh/Shangqiu and a group of boys from the mission of Palichuang went to study there. He requested to join the group, for study reasons, and his request was admitted. He left with what would be his companion and co-novice, Lucas Yuo, and with other boys from Palichoang to the St.Augustine pre-seminary school, whose opening, was on April 29, 1929. He persevered, received baptism, and finished his primary studies and Latin.

In 1933, on the occasion of the visit of the prior general, Gregory Li and two other companions expressed their desire to be religious and were admitted to the novitiate in 1935, completing their religious profession a year later.

With the permission of the Holy See, Gregory Li was sent to Rome to study at the Urban College of Propaganda Fide. During his stay in the eternal city, Gregory Li made his solemn profession on August 15, 1939, and was ordained a priest on April 8, 1942.

While Gregory Li was in Rome, the Kweiteh mission suffered from the Japanese invasion. Due to the declaration of war between Japan and the United States, the mission was isolated from the outside world and Father Gregorio Li could not return to the mission, so he spent several years in different ministries in Spain: Zaragoza (1942-1943), Lodosa (1943-1945) as prefect, and in the convent of Marcilla (1945-1947) -these two towns are in Navarra-.

During his stay in Spain, he spread the missionary spirit and promoted support for missionary work in China. Father Gregorio shared his missionary fervor and enthusiasm during his visits to schools and youth associations, leaving a deep impression on his audience. He also wrote articles for the Provincial Bulletin on the question of the Evangelization of China and especially on the importance of the inculturation of Christian art, taking up, and echoing the teachings of the former apostolic delegate, and at that time secretary of Propaganda Fide, Monsignor Celso Costantini, who was a pioneer and great promoter of artistic inculturation in the construction of the ecclesiastical buildings in China.

Once the Second World War ended and maritime communications were re-established, Father Gregorio Li was able to return to the Mission on June 29, 1947, along with his companion Lucas Yuo and with Father Julián Sáenz, who, having left China in 1940 due to vacation, he could not return to his time due to the isolation of the mission during the war. Upon arrival, they found a very different China from the one they had left. The zones previously controlled by the Japanese were now in the hands of the Nationalist army, which openly confronted the communist side in rural and isolated areas.

For a year they were teachers and trainers at the Kweiteh seminary. From that moment, the situation in the mission became difficult. In 1948, most of the missions of the Diocese were under communist control. Concerns were raised about the fate of the Chinese seminarians, so it was decided to transfer the religious choristers to Hong Kong.

When the religious seminarians went to Hongkong and the diocesans to the major seminary of Kaifeng, Father Gregorio Li was appointed principal of Kweiteh Primary School. As a school director, he attended frequent meetings where the communists explained the rules and methods they had to follow. Once convinced that he could not continue as a director if he did not abide by the communist ideology, he resigned from the position on March 18, 1951, he went to his hometown to rest and be with his mother. That situation made him not to return to the mission. He couldn’t celebrate Mass but in secret, for fear of being denounced by the communist youth.

Between late 1951 and 1952, he went to Shanghai where he was given some financial help. During those years he responded to the sporadic calls of the Yungcheng catechists to assist the sick. They begged him to stay there permanently but he wouldn’t dare and returned to his people.

In 1952, Bishop Arturo Quintanilla and the missionary Lorenzo Peña, who were already the last foreign religious in Kweiteh would be expelled from the mission. At the end of 1954 or the beginning of 1955, he wrote a letter to Father Francisco Sanz, an attorney in Shanghai that he would be the last Spanish religious to be expelled from China. In his letter, he asked for a book on pediatric diseases since he intended to prepare himself in that subject to be able to work in a rural hospital. This was his last contact with the Spanish missionaries.

In 1955 there was a great blow against the Church. They imprisoned many of the bishops, prominent Chinese priests, nuns, and lay people, and definitively expelled the foreigners who remained. After the expulsion of foreigners from the Church, the Persecution focused on its Chinese members.

Father Gregorio Li was arrested in 1958, a little later than the other religious Chinese, being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in Qinghai province. Once the sentence was completed, he remained in said province, where he died in March 1980.