You were a man of heroic faith, Isidore Bakanja, a young layman from the Congo. As a baptized person called to spread the Good News, you knew how to share your faith and bore witness to Christ with so much conviction that, to your companions, you appeared to be one of those valiant lay faithful who are catechists. Yes, Blessed Isidore, completely faithful to the promises of your baptism, you really were a catechist, you worked generously for “the Church in Africa and its evangelizing mission”.
Isidore, your participation in the paschal mystery of Christ, in the supreme work of his love, was total. Because you wanted to remain faithful at all costs to the faith of your baptism, you suffered scourging like your Master. You forgave your persecutors like your Master on the Cross and you showed yourself to be a peacemaker and reconciler.
In an Africa painfully tested by struggles between ethnic groups, your luminous example is an invitation to harmony and to the rapprochement between the children of the same heavenly Father. You practiced fraternal charity towards all, without distinction of race or social condition; you earned the esteem and respect of your companions, many of whom were not Christians. In this way, you show us the path of dialogue necessary among men.
In this Advent of preparation for the third millennium, you invite us to accept, following your example, the gift that Jesus made of his own Mother on the Cross (cf. Jn 19:27). Dressed in the “habit of Mary”, like her and with her, you continued your pilgrimage of faith; like Jesus the Good Shepherd, you came to give your life for your sheep. Help us who have to walk the same path to turn our eyes toward Mary and take her as a guide.
Saint John Paul II
Homily, 24 April 1994
Eucharistic Concelebration for the Beatification of Isidore Bakanja
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. The second time the agent tore the scapular from Isidore’s neck, had him pinned to the ground, and then beaten with 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.
When an inspector came to the plantation, Isidore was sent to another village. He managed to hide in the forest, then dragged himself to the inspector. This was the inspector’s report:
“I saw a man come from the forest with his back torn apart by deep, festering, malodorous wounds, covered with filth, assaulted by flies. He leaned on two sticks in order to get near me – he wasn’t walking; he was dragging himself”.
The agent tried to kill “that animal of mon père”, but the inspector prevented him. He took Isidore home to heal, but Isidore knew better.
“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.”
Two missionaries who spent several days with him reported that he devoutly received the last sacraments. The missionaries urged Isidore to forgive the agent; he assured them that he already had.
“I shall pray for him.
When I am in heaven,
I shall pray for him very much.”
After six months of prayer and suffering, he died, rosary in hand and scapular around his neck.
Translation from the Italian text is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.