Friday, August 12, 2005

It's tough to keep the serfs in line after they pray Magnificat

It isn't just in Central America and very recent time that supposed Christians murder other Christians for being Christians. For it is very hard to become an oppressor with one's faith intact. And, when one becomes a Christian, one learns about the dignity and honor that accompany being a human being made in the very Image and Likeness, and the responsibility that comes from being buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him to a new everlasting life. "Because the boss/jefe/King says so" is no longer a reason to do evil, or to refuse to share the faith that saves.

Today's the memorial day of Blessed Isidore Bakanja. His actual yahrzeit day is the 15th, but the Church deemed his witness too important to always be covered up by the Dormition, so nudged the celebration a few days.

Bakanja, of the Boanji nation, was born in the town of Bokendela, Belgian Congo, sometime between 1880 and 1890 (not in the 80 census, shows up in the 90 one). From childhood he labored on farms, and he also gained skills as a bricklayer. He converted to Christianity from animism on 1906 and was baptized and given the Christian name Isadore; the baptismal record estimates that he's about 18 years old at that time.

He continued to work as a bricklayer or a general farm laborer on the various plantations in the area, which were owned and managed by colonialists who, although baptized back home in Belgium, were functional atheists who had an animus against the Catholic Church and her missioners due to the Church's defense of the human rights and dignity of the Congolese peoples.

He was working on a plantation in Ikili in 1909 (and teaching his co-workers about the Faith and how to pray) when he asked the boss for some home leave --- he hadn't seen his family for a long time. He was refused, and commanded to throw away his crucifix and rosary and scapular [for my non-Catholic readers, a scapular is a miniaturized garment worn under the shirt as a devotional, in his case a sign of his membership in the Confraternity of OL of Mt. Carmel] and stop teaching other workers to pray. "You'll have them all praying and turn them all into Christians, then they'll want to see their families and stop working, too!" When they caught him continuing to teach his co-workers to pray, he was beaten. He still didn't stop evangelizing his co-workers.

On 22 April 1909 he was caught talking about Jesus and prayer again.That and the sight of Isidore's scapular (farmworkers don't always keep their shirts on) enraged the overseer, who stripped him and beat him with a flesh-tearing whip over 100 blows, tearing him open to the bones, then for weeks after kept him tight-tethered in one place 24 hour a day.

When the government inspectors came, the bosses tried to hide Isidore in another village, but Isidore escaped them to hide in the forest, then dragged himself --- he couldn't walk, and his back was just a bunch of deep infected wounds --- to the inspector who was talking to the overseer. The overseer offered to put "this animal of mon pere" out of its misery, but the inspector would not allow that, and took Isidore to his home to heal. But Isidore knew he was beyond that. "If you see my mother, or if you go to the judge, or you meet a priest, tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian." Missioners who spent several days with him while he was dying, and who received his last confession and gave him Communion for the last time, urged Isidore to forgive the overseer, and Isidore answered that he already had done so. "I shall pray for him. When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much. After six months of prayer and suffering, he died of his wounds on Assumption/Dormition Day, 1909.
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1 comment:

Julie D. said...

Fascinating. I'd never heard of this saint. Thanks so much for the good scoop (and, of course, all the other good scoop on the saints that I HAVE heard of...). :-)