“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.”
Isidore Bakanja worked as an assistant mason for white colonists in what was then the Belgian Congo and now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was a convert, baptized 6 May 1906 at age 18 after receiving instruction from Trappist missionaries. Rosary in hand, he used any chance to share his faith; though untrained, many thought of him as a catechist. He left his native village because there were no fellow Christians.
He found work as a domestic on a Belgian rubber plantation. Many of the Belgian agents were atheists who hated missionaries due to their fight for native rights and justice; the agents used the term “mon père”—the formal term used to address a priest—for anyone associated with religion.
Isidore encountered their hatred when he asked for leave to go home. The agents refused, and he was ordered to stop teaching fellow workers how to pray: “You’ll have the whole village praying and no one will work!” He was told to discard his Carmelite scapular, and when he didn’t, he was flogged twice.
A second time on 22 April 1909, the agent tore the scapular from Isidore’s neck, had him pinned to the ground, and then beaten — over 100 blows — with a whip of elephant hide with nails on the end. He was then chained to a single spot 24 hours a day.