|Saint Gregory Grassi, O.F.M.|
|Religious, Bishop and Martyr|
|Born||December 13, 1833
Castellazzo Bormida, Piedmont, Italy
|Died||July 9, 1900
Taiyuan, Shanxi, China
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||November 27, 1946 by Pope Pius XII|
|Canonized||October 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II|
Saint Gregory Mary Grassi, O.F.M., (Gregorio Maria Grassi) (December 13, 1833–July 9, 1900) was an Italian Franciscan friar and bishop who is honored as a Roman Catholic martyr and saint. He is one of the 120 Martyrs of China that were canonized on 1 October 2000 by Pope John Paul II.
Early life and mission
He was born Pierluigi Grassi in Castellazzo Bormida, in the Piedmont region of Italy, on 13 December 1833. While still aged 15, on November 2, 1848, he took the Franciscan habit in the Friary of Montiano, Romagna, with the name Gregory. His solemn profession was made one year later, on December 14. He was then sent to Bologna to do his seminary studies, and was ordained on 17 August 1856, then sent to Rome for further training to prepare for the mission to China. In 1860 Grassi was assigned to Taiyuan, China, where he was appointed Mission Promoter, Director of the mission orphanage, and choirmaster at the seminary there.
In 1876, he was chosen as the Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic for the Apostolic Vicariate of Shansi. After he assumed authority over the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Shansi on September 6, 1891, he established a novitiate to provide access to Franciscan life for the Chinese of all four vicariates in Shanxi, and a rest home for overworked missionaries. He also dealt with the suffering of the local population through plague and famine, which led him to enlarge the orphanage in the city and establish several others, in order to cope with the orphans left behind by these catastrophes.
When the short but bloody Boxer Rebellion broke out in Peking in June 1900 and the Empress Dowager Cixi issued the Imperial Decree of declaration of war against foreign powers, Grassi was urged to flee. He responded, "Ever since I was twelve, I have desired and also asked God for martyrdom. Now that this longed-for hour has come, must I run away?"
At the beginning of July, the Governor of Shanxi, Yuxian, ordered the arrest of the European missionaries in the province. On July 4, a mob attacked the Franciscan mission in Hengyang (southern Hunan), murdering one of the friars, Cesidio Giacomantonio, and burning the mission to the ground. A few days later, on July 7, the friar who served as Apostolic Vicar of Southern Hunan, bishop Antonio Fantosati, and his companion, friar Giuseppe Maria Gambario, were attacked while returning to the mission in Hengyang. Both were killed.
Grassi was one of a dozen European missionaries who were arrested in Taiyuan, four other friars and seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and 11 Chinese members of the Third Order of St. Francis—of whom six were seminarians—as well as three employees of the mission. They were all mutilated and kept in iron cages on public display, then marched through the surrounding villages. They were returned to Taiyuan on July 8. The next day, July 9th, the entire group was beheaded by the Governor (known as the Taiyuan Massacre).
Throughout China during the Boxer Uprising, five bishops, 50 priests, two brothers, 15 sisters and 40,000 Chinese Christians were killed. The 146,575 Catholics served by the Franciscans in China in 1906 had grown to 303,760 by 1924 and were served by 282 Franciscans and 174 local priests.