Wednesday, May 22, 2019



Blessed Isidore Bakanja was born in 1887 in what was then known as the Congo Free State, a property held entirely by the Belgian crown as a private enterprise, free of any government jurisdiction.  Creation of the Congo Free State coincided with the invention of the inflated rubber tire.  Rubber soon became the Congo’s main export.  Sadly the rubber industry in the Congo operated under notoriously horrific forced-labor conditions.  In time the product became known as “red rubber.”    

Rumors circulated abroad concerning the brutal conditions in the Congo and journalists began to take note.  E. D. Morel, a British journalist and shipping clerk, noticed that all rubber shipments from the Congo to Liverpool returned to the Congo laden with only guns, ammunition, and shackles.  From this he deduced that the Congo was in fact a slave state and set out to document conditions.  Aided by missionaries his investigation exposed the rampant humanitarian disaster to the rest of the world.

Many notable figures joined the cause in support of the Congolese people including Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Additional criticism came from Catholic mission priests.  This public outcry drew the ire of the Belgian land masters who in turn treated the native Congolese more severely.  Catholics in general were perceived as being in league with the whistle-blowers and singled out for cruel treatment.  Eventually the Belgium government began its own inquiry, but could not refute the horrific atrocities documented by foreign journalists. 

It is during this time that Blessed Isidore encountered Trappist missionaries, converting to the Catholic faith.  He was baptized on May 6th 1906 at age 18.  Isidore was known to be a man of great zeal with a special devotion to the rosary and the Carmelite Scapular to which he had been enrolled.  Though he worked as a brick-layer, he left his home village because there were no Christians there.  He settled in another place finding domestic work on a rubber plantation.

Though Bl. Isidore’s immediate employer was kindly disposed toward him, the plantation owner was an atheist with a notoriously violent temper.  Upon seeing Bl. Isidore’s scapular, he demanded Isidore take it off.  When Isidore refused, he ordered him to be beaten.  This in no way deterred Isidore from wearing his scapular or spreading the faith among the laborers.  On the next occasion that Isidore was seen praying with his co-workers and wearing his scapular, he was severely beaten, chained, and left for dead. 

Soon after the plantation owner learned that inspectors were coming to evaluate conditions among the laborers.  Knowing that Isidore was severely wounded, he ordered him to walk to the next village.  Too injured to make the journey, Isidore collapsed in the jungle near the plantation.  When the inspector arrived, he discovered Isidore: "I saw a man 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."

So moved was the inspector by Isidore’s condition that he brought him into his own home and cared for him.  However no care could heal the septicemia that was spreading through Isidore’s body.  Isidore suffered another six months before succumbing to his infected wounds.  Missionaries ministered to Isidore in his last days and gave him Communion.  Isidore assured them that he forgave his attacker and would pray for him very much in heaven.  Isidore died in August 1909.  He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994

The Congo remains a place of conflict to this day, and yet, the Congo is home to more Carmelite religious than any other country in Africa.  Bl. Isidore inspires us to be steadfast in our Christian witness and courageous in a climate of violence.

Posted in: Saints of Carmel


There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.

Post Comment

Only registered users may post comments.
Copyright 2010 by The Lay Carmelites of Georgia