October 9, 1994
Brother John Raymond
If you want to be braver, or have more of the virtue of fortitude
pray to Blessed Isidore. He was strong and heroic African. Blessed
Isidore Bakanja is known as Africa's Scapular Martyr. He was born of
the Boangi tribe in the 1880's. Belgium came into possession of the
Congo in 1885. Various Belgians companies moved into the area,
especially interested in rubber and ivory. These companies wanted to
make the maximum profit - unfortunately this was at the native
people's expense. The inhuman treatment of the natives came to the
attention of the Belgian sovereign, Leopold II. The sovereign in
turn begged Pope Leo XIII to do something about it. The Pope sent
the Trappists of Westmalle, Belgium to be missionaries in the Congo
The missionaries were not loved by
the foreign companies,
especially since they denounced their abusive conduct. Also, company
agents disliked any of the natives who associated with the
missionaries. The missionaries taught that a person is recognized by
the uniform he wears. The uniform of a Christian is a Brown Scapular
and Rosary worn around his neck. This uniform is a witness of the
faith to others. One young African was to take this teaching quite
Isidore was working for the
Belgians as an assistant mason in the
construction of buildings when he met the missionaries. He received
the sacraments of initiation in 1906-1907. When his work contract
ran out Isidore found work as a servant-boy of a Belgian named Mr.
Reynders. His master was soon transferred to a plantation in Ikili.
Isidore was warned by a fellow servant not to go to this place. He
was told that the whites there hated Christians. But Isidore
trusting in his employer went to Ikili.
Mr. Longange had a definite
dislike for Christianity and anyone
associated with it. Isidore quickly became unpopular with him. He
taught others about God and prayer, wore the Brown Scapular and was
often seen praying while walking or alone at home. Isidore, trying
to avoid open conflict with the man, asked for a letter of release
from his work so he could seek employment elsewhere. Mr. Longange
refused to give it.
One night as Isidore was serving
his master at supper, Mr.
Longange noticed his Brown Scapular. He ordered him to take it off.
Isodore did not. A few days later Mr. Longange noticed it again. He
had Isodore beaten. A few days later he tore off Isidore's scapular
and had him whipped mercilessly. He nearly died. He was chained and
locked in a room. In time an inspector discovered Isidore and
stopped Mr. Longange from killing him and brought the boy to safety.
Though in great pain Isidore never neglected his prayers. On July
24, 1909 Isidore made his confession and received the last rites.
The next day he received Holy Communion. He accepted life or death.
He promised that in Heaven he would pray much for his tormentor. In
August either on the 8th. or the 15th. Isidore Bakanja went to God.
Now, his suffering is over, Isidore will gladly intercede for us
that we will be brave and strong when faced with opposition,
ridicule or persecution.