Today, we celebrate the feast day of Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi (1903-1964), the first Nigerian to be beatified for his holiness and service to the people of his country. Father Tansi spent his life, despite sickness and adversity, caring for those he loved in a country where Catholics are frequently persecuted. His courage and dedication to the Word of God remains an inspiration for all of us.
During his beatification Mass in Nigeria, Pope John Paul II proclaimed of him: “The life and witness of Fr Tansi is an inspiration to everyone in the Nigeria that he loved so much. He was first of all a man of God: his long hours before the Blessed Sacrament filled his heart with generous and courageous love. Those who knew him testify to his great love of God. Everyone who met him was touched by his personal goodness. He was then a man of the people: he always put others before himself, and was especially attentive to the pastoral needs of families. He took great care to prepare couples well for Holy Matrimony and preached the importance of chastity. He tried in every way to promote the dignity of women. In a special way, the education of young people was precious to him. Even when he was sent by Bishop Heerey to the Cistercian Abbey of Mount St Bernard in England to pursue his monastic vocation, with the hope of bringing the contemplative life back to Africa, he did not forget his own people. He did not fail to offer prayers and sacrifices for their continuing sanctification.
Father Tansi knew that there is something of the Prodigal Son in every human being. He knew that all men and women are tempted to separate themselves from God in order to lead their own independent and selfish existence. He knew that they are then disappointed by the emptiness of the illusion which had fascinated them, and that they eventually find in the depths of their heart the road leading back to the Father's house (cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, n. 5). He encouraged people to confess their sins and receive God's forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He implored them to forgive one another as God forgives us, and to hand on the gift of reconciliation, making it a reality at every level of Nigerian life. Fr Tansi tried to imitate the father in the parable: he was always available for those searching for reconciliation. He spread the joy of restored communion with God. He inspired people to welcome the peace of Christ, and encouraged them to nourish the life of grace with the word of God and with Holy Communion....
Blessed Cyprian Michael Tansi is a prime example of the fruits of holiness which have grown and matured in the Church in Nigeria since the Gospel was first preached in this land. He received the gift of faith through the efforts of the missionaries, and taking the Christian way of life as his own he made it truly African and Nigerian. So too the Nigerians of today young and old alike are called to reap the spiritual fruits which have been planted among them and are now ready for the harvest. In this regard, I wish to thank and to encourage the Church in Nigeria for her missionary work in Nigeria, in Africa and beyond. Fr Tansi's witness to the Gospel and to Christian charity is a spiritual gift which this local Church now offers to the universal Church.”
Iwene Tansi was born in Aguleri, Near Onitsha, Negeria in 1903. One of five children, his parents sent him to be raised by a Christian uncle, who instilled in him a love of God. Baptized when only 9 years old, he took the Christian name Michael and surprised his parents by destroying his personal idol—a traditional symbol given to each male child at birth in Nigeria. His baptism impacted him deeply, and he devoted himself to study of the Gospel and charitable works. Blinded in his left eye while playing as a child, Michael never complained.
At the age of 22, after working as a catechist and school teacher at the Holy Trinity School in Onitsha, he became headmaster of Saint Joseph’s School. Not long afterwards, he entered the seminary of Saint Paul’s, called to a deeper level of service. Ordained in the Onitsha diocese at the age of 34, he dedicated himself to constant service of the people of Easter Nigeria for the next 13 years. Given the geographical spread of the diocese, Father Tansi spent most of his days walking from village to village, spending time at each parish, hearing confessions all day (and oftentimes through the night). He preached the importance of preparation for marriage, and the joy of Christian love, actively working against the cultural tradition of “trial marriages.” Many were converted throughout the Igbo villages he visited, a testament to his constancy and zeal.
Father Tansi felt called, however, to devote himself more fully to the formation of Catholicism in Nigeria. He wished to serve the Lord more directly in contemplation and prayer, and in doing so, bring the monastic life to Nigeria. He traveled to Mount Saint Bernard Monastery, a Trappist Abbey, near Nottingham, England, and undertook training in the establishment of contemplative monastic communities. Taking the name Cyprian, he devoted himself to his eventual goal of building a monastery in Onitsha. However, the change of weather, cuisine, and community provided a drastic shock to his system, and Father Cyprian found himself quite ill.
When Mount Saint Bernard founded a monastery in Africa (in Cameroon, rather than neighboring Nigeria), Father Cyprian was appointed as Novice Master. However, the years of toil that he had undertaken had exerted their toll on him, and he was too ill to participate. He died only a few months later. However, his reputation had never left Nigeria, and many reported miracles and favors via his intercession. The call for his beatification began shortly following his death. On March 22, 1998, at Onitsha, during a trip to Nigeria made for that very purpose, Pope John Paul II beatified Father Cyprian Michael Tansi, proclaiming him to be a model of priestly zeal and prayer.
An extract from a retreat Father Cyprian Michael Tansi gave in 1962:
We do very little good when we embark on our own. We do much good when we allow God to direct us and direct our enterprises. The apostles, you remember, went out fishing, laboured the whole night and got nothing. They were on their own, the Lord came and told them to cast the net and they would find. They did so and were not able to draw up the net, so great was the number of fish caught.
When they worked by themselves, they took nothing. When they worked in the company of our Lord, they were full. So with us. We must learn to avoid worrying ourselves about things, learn to do away with anxieties of all sorts.
When you have something to do, an assignment to perform, remembering that we are not doing our work, but God's work, we must first go to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, place our plans before Him and ask for his advice and assistance. We must examine before him how he would like us to produce, whether he would like us to do one thing or the other. If any doubt, consult your spiritual director for advice. You should never undertake to do anything unless you are sure that God wants it done in the way you are planning. Above all things you should never do your own will: you should do only what the superiors want to be done. You should never force the superiors to yield to your will by any stratagem.
And while doing whatever you have to do, you should do it at a pace and speed that will allow you time continually to turn to God for guidance. Your conversation with God should be continual. Remember that you cannot achieve this spiritual disposition in a day. You need time, practice and patience. All that I request you now is to examine and to see whether what you are told is the truth. If it is, then make a resolution to continue to make effort in this direction without minding whether you succeed or fail.
Please join me in lifting these intentions to Our Lord, through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother.
Prayer requests, 2013: Week 3:
Health and healing for the ill, success of a charitable organization (D, United Kingdom); Protection, healing, and recovery for a premature baby (M, USA-MA); Healing, successful employment, end to financial difficulties (M, USA-OH); Resolution of financial difficulties (M, USA-CA); Healing of a sick husband, blessings upon a daughter and family (S, India); Financial blessings and security (A, USA-NM); Healing of a woman undergoing medical treatment (D, India); Healing and health, financial stability, occupational success, hope (R, USA-CT); Healing for a brother and friend (E, Zimbabwe).