Martyr For The Scapular
"You were a man of heroic faith, Isidore
Bakanja, young layman of Zaire. As
person, called to spread the Good News,
shared your faith and witness to Christ
such conviction that to your companions
seemed one of those valiant lay faithful,
the catechists. Yes, Blessed Isidore,
faithful to your baptismal promises,
were a true catechist, tolling generously
for "the Church in Africa and
These are the word that Pope John Paul
pronounced in front of numerous people
had gathered in Saint Peter's Square
morning of Sunday, 24 April 1994 for
beatification of three Servants of
Bakanja, a young Zairian martyr, and
Italian mothers, Gianna Beretta Molla,
woman who preferred death rather than
her pregnancy and Elizabeth Canon Mora,
abused wife, an exemplary mother and
It was the Sunday of Good Shepherd.
Isidore was born in northeast Zaire,
Belgian Congo, in the 1880's. His father
and mother were Iyonzwa and Inyuka.
time, Zaire was a colony of Belgium
foreign companies had moved into the
especially interested in rubber and
Their only interest was maximum profit.
always, the poor and the defenseless
the ones who suffered most.
Missionaries arrived from Belgium.
Trappists, a contemplative order, dedicated
to a life of prayer and penance. They
very hard among the people but they
very unpopular among the foreign companies,
because the missionaries did not hesitate
to denounce the abusive conduct of
companies. The Church always sides
Isidore left his village to find work
an assistant mason in the city of Mbandaka.
God was waiting for him there. There
the missionaries. When he was eighteen,
was baptized. That same year, 1906,
first communion and confirmation,
Bakanja lived his new faith very simply,
cherishing the two external signs of
rosary and the scapular which he never
to wear. He was eager to spread the
news among his fellow workers. He had
a 'precious pearl'.
When his work contract ran out, Isidore
to work as a servant to a Belgian colonizer,
following his employer into the bush
on a large rubber plantation in Ikili.
was warned by his fellow servants not
go to this place. He was told that
there hated Christians. They were right.
By character, Isidore was rather gentle,
honest and courteous. However, his
speak about Jesus Christ made him many
He was ordered to stop speaking about
Church and to remove the Scapular (Mary's
habit, as it is rendered in Isidore's
tongue) from his neck. "You'll
the whole village praying and no one
The confrontation was on! One evening
Isidore and his friend Iyongo were
supper, the manager of the plantation
that Isidore remove the scapular from
neck. Isidore was not intimidated.
days later, on noticing that Bakanja
still wearing his scapular, the man
into a rage and had Isidore beaten
The climax of this vicious hatred came
February 2nd. It was the year 1909.
agent was having an afternoon coffee
verandah with two of his friends when
spied Isidore who was walking towards
marshland. He noticed that he was still
The man confronted Bakanja and ripped
scapular from his neck and tossed it
dog. Then he grabbed him by the neck
threw him to the ground, ordering his
to beat the African. Isidore asked
"My God, I'm dying", he muttered.
Futile. That afternoon, Bakanja was
more than 250 strokes with a hippopotamus
hide whip that had nails in it. He
locked up and chained.
The pain was intense. Isidore's back
one open wound; some of his bones were
Since an inspector was due, Isidore
to another village. But because he
not walk, he fell by the wayside and
in the forest.
Somehow the inspector did meet him.
saw a man come from the forest with
torn apart by deep, festering, foul-smelling
wounds, covered with filth, assaulted
flies. He leaned on two sticks in order
get near me - he wasn't walking; he
himself". He felt pity for him
him to his own settlement, hoping to
But Isidore knew his end was near.
you see my mother, or if you go to
or if you meet the priest, tell them
I am dying because I am a Christian."
Two missionaries were called and spent
with him. "The white man did not
Christians.... He did not want me to
the scapular.... He yelled at me when
my prayers". The missionaries
Isidore to forgive the manager. "Certainly
I shall pray for him. When I am in
I shall pray for him very much".
His agony lasted six months. He died
15th, rosary in hand and the scapular
Our Lady of Mt Carmel around his necků
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright