Isidore Bakanja (c. 1887 – 15 August 1909) was beatified on 24 April 1994 by Pope John Paul II. He is considered a strong witness to the grace of reconciliation that can be experienced between peoples of different races.
Bakanja accepted the Christian faith at eighteen years of age through the ministry of Cistercian missionaries in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as the Belgian Congo). He was a very devout convert and catechist. Bakanja had a great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary that he expressed through recitation of the Rosary and by being invested in the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. His employers had ordered him to cease sharing the Gospel as well as remove the scapular that he wore as a witness to his faith. Isidore’s refusal to comply with the demands of his supervisor resulted in his being brutally beaten and chained.
As a result of the beating and persistent ill treatment he received, Isidore’s wounds became severely infected. As his condition worsened his supervisor sought to keep him from the view of the plantation’s inspector. However, Isidore was discovered and taken to the inspector’s home for treatment. His condition had deteriorated so severely, however, that no further medical attention could help him.
At this point 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.”
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com