Saturday, July 15, 2006

I shall pray for him very much (Isidore Bakanja)

During the colonial times in the Congo, the missionaries were not loved by the colonists, even though they both came from the same nations. The missionaries would usually defend the rights of the abused African slaves, which would anger the colonists.

The Trappist missionaries from Belgium met a young man named Bakanja. Bakanja worked for some white colonizers as an assistant in building-making. He became a Catholic and was baptized as Isidore. He had great love for the Blessed Virgin and always wore his scapular as his identity as a Christian.

When his contract with the whites expired, Isidore Bakanja found work as a servant to a Belgian national. He was transferred to a plantation in Ikili, where it was said that the whites hated Christians. In Ikili, Isidore taught his friends about the Christian religion, prayed in his home and continued wearing his scapular. The agent in Ikili, Mr. Longange, didn’t like Isidore and his faith. Even though Isidore asked to resign, the agent would not allow 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. 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. "I saw a man," wrote the horrified inspector, "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 pere", 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."

Fortunately, two missionaries came to give him spiritual comfort. The victim explained what had happened, “The white man did not like Christians ... He did not want me to wear the scapular... He yelled at me when I said my prayers.” Forgive this man, the missionaries urged him. Isidore answered that he had already done so, and held no grudge against him, “Certainly I shall pray for him. When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much.” So he received the last sacraments most devoutly. But it was not yet over. His agony lasted six more months. He died on August 8 or 15, 1909, the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel around his neck and the rosary grasped in his hand.


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