Blessed Isidor Bakanja
Blessed Isidore Bakanja, a member of the Boangi tribe, was born in Bokendela (Congo) between 1880 and 1890. In order to survive, even as a young boy, Blessed Isidore had to work as a bricklayer or on farms. He converted to Christianity in 1906 at the age of eighteen due to his contact with Cistercian (Trappist) missionaries.
Blessed Isidore, a gifted catechist, was working on a rubber plantation in Ikili, run by a colonialist, and was forbidden by the owner to spread Christianity among his fellow workers. He was commanded to stop teaching them to pray with his boss remarking: ‘You’ll have the whole village praying and no one will work!’ On 22nd April 1909, the superintendent of the business tore off the Brown Scapular, which Isidore was wearing as an expression of his Christian faith, especially of his devotion to Mary, and had him severely beaten even to drawing blood. Blessed Isidore died, Rosary in hand and wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on 15th August of the same year as a result of the horrific wounds inflicted on him in ‘punishment’ for his faith. He said to one of those who visited him in his last days: ‘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.’ Blessed Isidore bore his sufferings patiently, all the while forgiving his aggressor. As he lay dying he kept saying: ‘When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much.’ Much like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Blessed Isidore wanted to spend his heaven doing good on earth. He was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II on April 24th 1994.