Bl. Isidore Bakanja (1887 - 1909) challenges us to forgive our enemies and persecutors.
Baptism and Zeal to Share
Isidore was born in Bokendela in Belgian Congo, which is part of the modern day country of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He received instruction in the faith from Trappist missionaries from Westmalle Abbey in Belgium and presented himself as a candidate for baptism at the age of 18. The first paperwork that we have for Isidore is his baptismal certificate which indicates he received the sacrament on May 6, 1906.
Young Isidore was filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and exhibited it through his diligence in work, commitment to prayer, and desire to share his faith. He had particular devotion to Our Lady and frequently prayed the Rosary and wore Mary's habit as the brown scapular was referred to in his native tongue.
Because of his zeal to share the Good News, many non-Christians assumed that he was a catechist. Instead, he simply loved the faith and loved those he encountered enough to want to share the beauty of the Catholic Faith.
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Work and Persecution
In Bokendela, he had found work as a mason, but at one point decided to leave his home village for a more populous center where he might find fellow Catholics. After he arrived in the larger city, Isidore found employment with a Belgian company that ran the rubber plantations in the area.
Isidore soon realized that many of the Belgians in the company were practical atheists because they despised the Lord and His Church. The supervisors were opposed to how the missionaries pushed for the recognition of the rights for Isidore and his countrymen and fought for justice. The agents of the company referred to all priests and believers, in general, with the epithet mon pere.
Isidore was told to stop teaching other workers to pray lest everyone become mon peres and refuse to work. Then, because they hated his faith, Isidore was refused permission to return to his village when he asked.
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Flogged for Wearing the Scapular
On a couple of occasions, Isidore was told by his hateful supervisor to remove his brown scapular, which he refused to do. This threw the supervisor into a rage, and he had Isidore flogged.
The third time that the supervisor was refused in his request was too much for the evil man. He ripped the scapular off of Isidore, and ordered him to be held down by two servants while a third servant brutally flogged him with an elephant hide whip studded with nails. Isidore received over one hundred blows. The young man asked for mercy, but only received kicks to his head and neck in reply. Afterwards, his back was one large open wound with bones exposed. The supervisor ordered him shackled in a small hut that was part of the rubber processing work.
Because the plantation was to be visited by an inspector, Isidore was forced out of the hut and ordered to go to another village. He was in such bad shape that he simply fell beside the road and suffered without any relief. Isidore managed to drag himself into the forest where he hid in case his tormentors sought his whereabouts. When the inspector did come down the road, Isidore summoned up the strength to come out of the forest.
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Forgiveness and Death
The inspector was shocked when he saw Isidore who was in unbelievable pain with his festering wounds, bones exposed, and almost no strength left. Enraged, the supervisor rushed up and wanted to finish off the "the animal mon pere". However, the inspector physically prevented the supervisor from doing so. Instead, he took Isidore to his home in a nearby village where he hoped to save him.
Although he received treatment for his numerous injuries, Isidore was certain that he would not ultimately survive the horrible beating he had received. For six months, he was cared for in hopes of his recovery. During that time, it became clear that he had been beaten for his faith and that what had happened to him would take his life. Isidore appealed, “If you see my mother, or if you go to the judge, or if you meet a priest, tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian.”
When his passing was near, two missionary priests did come to him and gave him the last sacraments. Isidore told the two fathers that he had forgiven all those who had treated him so badly and that, Lord willing, he would continue to pray for them in Heaven. Having received the full cup of his suffering, Isidore died on August 15, 1909 with a Rosary in his hand and wearing his beloved brown scapular.
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Feast Day (Memorial): August 15th