Centenary Celebrations of Martyrdom of Bl. Isidore Bakanja
THE CENTENARY OF THE DEATH OF BLESSED ISIDORE BAKANJA – THE ‘MARTYR OF THE CARMELITE BROWN SCAPULAR’ – HAS BEEN CELEBRATED IN VARIOUS PARTS OF THE WORLD, AND PARTICULARLY IN HIS NATIVE REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO.
Masses in French, Swahili and English have been celebrated in Africa, Europe, Australasia and elsewhere. Blessed Isidore – whose feast day is celebrated by Carmelites on 12th August – continues to give great hope and encouragement to the suffering people of central Africa.
Blessed Isidore Bakanja (d. 1909) was a labourer in the Belgian Congo (now DRC). He converted to Christianity aged eighteen and sought to bring others to the faith. He was devoted to Our Lady by praying the Rosary and wearing the Brown Scapular, the Carmelite habit in miniature, and as such he was a member of the Carmelite Family. Isidore worked for Belgian colonists, many of whom were atheists who hated Christians because they insisted on justice and rights for the native people. This hatred was turned on Isidore who was teaching people how to pray on the rubber plantation where he worked. The supervisor told Isidore to stop preaching the Gospel and take off his scapular and when he wouldn’t Isidore was flogged and chained. His torn skin became infected and Isidore was close to death. When an inspector came to visit the plantation the supervisor sought to hide Isidore but he was seen and taken to the inspector’s house to heal. His wounds were too great, however, and Isidore told the inspector “tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian.” Missionaries in the area visited Isidore and urged him to forgive the supervisor. He assured them that he already had, declaring “When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much.” Isidore was beatified in 1994, and has become a powerful symbol for reconciliation between people of different colours and races. He was not an ‘expert’ in Carmelite spirituality. His faith was simple. But the life and death of this young black man are a brilliant witness to the life and death of Jesus and we are proud to number Isidore among the martyrs of Carmel.
In 2008 the British Province of Carmelites installed an icon of Blessed Isidore by Sister Petra Clare (below right) at their Shrine of St. Jude at Faversham in Kent.
The icon of Blessed Isidore (right) and Blessed Elias Kuriakos Chavara in Faversham.