Blessed Isidore Bakanja is the first martyr of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel whose feast we celebrate on Monday, July 16th. Isidore Bakanja was a young black teenage martyr from the Boangi tribe in Zaire, Africa with plenty of zeal, valor, and faith for the gospel and Our Lady.
Receiving the sacraments of initiation in 1906-1907, Isidore immediately became a fervent catechist for the faith. Even though he had his own house, he was troubled that the Word of God had not yet reached his own native territory. To remedy this he found work in the Ikili plantation.
On the Ikili plantation, there was a European freethinker named Van Cauter or Longange who hated Christianity and had vowed to get rid of Christianity. On one occasion when Isidore was praying the rosary in public Longange warned, “I don’t want to see that contraption here. Go hide it in your box; you’re here to work and not mumble prayers.” On another occasion, Longange declared to Isidore about his Brown Scapular, “Bakanja, take that contraption off your neck. It is disgusting. I don’t want to see that contraption of stupid priests here anymore.”
Isidore asked for a work transfer, but Longange replied, “I will not give you any such letter!…ask your God for that kind of letter! I will not give it to you!”
A few days later Longange saw the Brown Scapular on Isidore and went into a blind fury, “What’s the meaning of this? What? I told you to take that thing off. Why didn’t you do it? Since you don’t want to take it off, you’re really going to get it.” He instructed his workers to scourge Isidore with twenty-five lashes reminding us of St. Paul, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one (2Cor.11:24).”
Isidore’s faith plus his love and devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel was unyielding so he refused to take the Brown Scapular off. A few days later on February 2, 1909, Longange saw Isidore wearing his Brown Scapular and ordered another flagellation but this time with an elephant whip which had two nails at the end. The workers refused to hold down and scourge Isidore any further when they saw his flesh being torn and flayed off his back. Longange threatened them with their lives so a total of 200-250 lashings ripped and shredded Bakanja’s back and body apart.
Isidore was one complete wound like Our Lord at Calvary, and he lay in a pool of his own blood. He was heard saying, “…He did not want me to pray to God…He killed me because I said my prayers…I stole nothing from him…It’s because I was praying to God.”
Longange ordered Isidore to be chained and hid in prison which consisted of a room that was used as a rubber factory. Because of the confinement, he was drenched in blood and excrement plus the fumes of the burnt rubber provoked agitated coughing. The mosquitos and insects openly biting his wounds adding to the sufferings of this new ‘Job’.
Isidore said to his friend Moya Mputsu, “God alone knows whether I will die of these wounds, or if I will live…if you meet the priests, tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian….I don’t feel anything good in my body anymore.”
Isidore continued his prayers day and night and like Job, he never complained. On July 24, 1909, Fr. Gregoire administered the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and heard his confession. He explained to the priest, “He did not want me to wear the scapular…He yelled at me when I said my prayers.”
Fr. Gregoire recommend to Isidore to forgive his persecutor and he said, “I am not angry with the white man…He beat me. That’s his business; it is none of mine. He should know what he is doing.” “Certainly, I shall pray for him. When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much.”
During his days of agony, Isidore was never without his rosary, and he was always seen praying. Like St. Paul who said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain, (Phil.1:21)” so Isidore stated, “It is nothing if I die. If God wants me to live, I’ll live! If God wants me to die, I’ll die. It’s all the same to me.”
On August 8 or 15, 1909, Isidore entered heaven after much suffering and pain. When visiting Africa in 1980, Pope John Paul II said of Isidore, “After having given all his free time to the evangelization of his brothers as a catechist, he did not hesitate to offer his life to God, strong in the courage he found in his faith and in the faithful recitation of the Rosary…” Pope John Paul II beatified Isidore Bakanja on April 24, 1994 and his feast day is celebrated August 12th.
Celebrating Our Lady of Mount Carmel & the Brown Scapular (Facebook Event)