No Public Funeral For Msgr. Stefano Li Side, Underground Bishop of Tianjin Who Suffered 17 Years in Forced Labor Camp

92 Year Old Bishop had refused to belong to the Chinese Patriotic Association, remaining faithful to the One True Religion!  He died on June 8. 2019., after a long illness.   Bishop Li was imprisoned for years and endured the hardships of China’s forced labor camp. 

His body was placed in a funeral parlor and not in the cathedral of St. Joseph (Xikai) in Tianjin.


Msgr. Stefano Li Side was born on October 3, 1927 in Zunhua (Tangshan, Hebei), from a long-established Catholic family with six brothers and sisters.  From the time he was a little boy he felt the vocation.  On July 10, 1955 he was ordained a priest. It was at this time that Mao Zedong seized power and the Patriot Association was launched. Father Stefano was arrested (1958).  He was released on 16  February, 1962 and he returned to service in the cathedral of Saint Joseph in Tianjin. He was again arrested and imprisoned in 1963 to 1980, sentenced to forced labor camps.

A word about Chinese Communist Forced Labor Camps from the book ‘An Incredible Life’ by Theresa Marie Moreau about the life of Monsignor Matthew Koo and his time in a Forced Labor Camp:

“From May to July 1960, Matthew worked at the backbreaking fieldwork, with only starvation rations of chingker prepared as porridge or bread.  No vegetables.  No meat.  Sometimes, while bent over and out of sight, he ripped grains from several stalks and quickly rubbed them between his hands to remove the husks, which he blew away before he stuffed the bits into his mouth.

Cadres kept their eyes on the prisoners and occasionally called out a few men.

“Open your mouth!” ordered a cadre, looking inside for evidence, and when he found it, he screamed, “You stole from the people!  You are to be punished!”

But still, the bits of grain did nothing to ease the hunger gnawing in his empty stomach, and without any substantial nourishment his health began to quickly decline.  At 5 feet 9 inches tall, his usual adult weight hovered around 140 pounds, but with less and less food and the same amount of work, his weight plummeted to 81 pounds.  His strength, withered.

By mid-summer, his body collapsed bit by bit.

His smile, once white and beautiful, dimmed into a bloody mess when nearly all of his teeth loosened and succumbed to the lack of nutrition.  One by one, each slid out of its socket, as roots clung unsuccessfully.  His fingernails, once strong and straight, curled around and under his fingertips.

Each day, he pushed his endurance as he labored in the fields, until one afternoon, in July 1960.

Returning to camp from the daily drudgery, he sat down to rest for a few minutes.  When he attempted to stand, he collapsed onto the ground, his legs too weak to support his diminishing weight.

Matthew dragged himself along the tamped-earth floor, over the threshold of his door and along the dirt to the labor camp’s doctor, also a prisoner.

With syringe in hand, the doctor stepped behind Matthew, a living skeleton of flesh draped loosely over bones, and started to give him an injection in the lower back, but stopped, unable to find a spot with enough subcutaneous fatty tissue to receive the needle.”

He was unable to stand and was removed from fieldwork and transferred to a dormitory in the same labor camp.  From a room two or three persons tall, he slumped against a wall, where he watched out a window from sunrise to sunset for a time.  He saw what looked like a death camp with a steady stream of ambulatory prisoners carrying the corpses of fellow prisoners, famine victims.

The dead, “bags of flesh filled with bones” were buried in their ragged quilts that had kept them warm through the winter.  They were tossed upon other piles of rotting flesh and sun-dried, “wind-blown bones, victims of one Communist directed campaign or another”

This was the true story of Father Matthew Koo and I believe that the situation was similar for Father Stefano Li Side, because he was also a Catholic priest, hated by the atheistic state, and they both lived approximately during the same Chinese regimes.

Returning to the story of Monsignor Stefano Li and his holy death, for he suffered labor camp and exile, and, a lengthy sickness,  for Christ and His true Church in China . . .

On June 15, 1982 Father Stefano Li was ordained bishop of the Diocese of Tianjin in secret.  This was not recognized by the government.

In 1989, after his participation in the Assembly of the Chinese Bishops’ Conference at Zhang Er Ce – which asked the government for greater religious freedom – he was imprisoned for the third time. Of course there are no details available about his imprisonment.

In 1991 he was released and returned to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Tianjin.  In 1992 he was forced by the authorities to move to the village of Liang Zhuang Zi, in the mountains, in the Ji Xian district (Tianjin) under house arrest.  Here he remained until his death.

Since 1992, the government has succeeded in placing Msgr. Giuseppe Shi Hongchen as official bishop of Tianjin.  Msgr. Shi Hongchen came from the underground Church.  He was ordained auxiliary bishop by Msgr. Li in 1982,  He died in 2006.

Since 2007, most of the priests of the official Church have expressed obedience to Msgr. Li Side.

Tianjin Church also has a coadjutor bishop (underground), Msgr. Melchiorre Shi Hongzhen, 92.

He is also under house arrest in the regions mountains.

The diocese of Tianjin has about 100 thousand faithful, cared for by 40 official and 20 underground priests.  Over 40 official and 20 underground sisters are also present.

The faithful of the Tianjin underground community are currently negotiating with the local government for a possible funeral ceremony at the city level.  One of the faithful told Asia News that “the local government is much more civil than the Patriotic Association.”  Until now, permission has only been given to carry out Masses and funeral orations in every church of the diocese.  The body of the bishop, after his death, was placed in a funeral parlor ( a lay mortuary ) and not in the Cathedral of St. Joseph (Xikai) in Tianjin.

Two days ago, some underground priests who wanted to pay homage to the bishops remains were allowed to enter the funeral parlor and hold a funeral prayer for only 10 minutes.  This morning they were not allowed to take part in mass in church.

Viva Cristo Rey!  May the holy soul of Bishop Li Side rest in peace + at last.

Some day perhaps we will know his full and tragic life story if someone writes it … if someone can ever obtain the truth from Communist China … as we know the life story of Monsignor Matthew Koo as written by Theresa Marie Moreau.

Drawn From:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Story by Wang Zhicheng                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The Story of Monsignor Matthew Koo was drawn from the Book ‘An Incredible Life’  by Theresa Marie Moreau and used with permission of the author