Notwithstanding its status as an economic and cultural giant on the African continent, Nigeria is still struggling to cope with all manner of challenges. These range from poverty, corruption, the Boko Haram insurgency, religious and political conflicts.
Fr. Emmanuel Nwosu, the Nigerian Postulator of the cause of Blessed Tansi's canonisation, says that Tansi is becoming more and more a symbol of healing and unity in Nigeria, particularly among Catholics. Blessed Tansi' stature will be enhanced when he is finally proclaimed a saint of the Church. This is because everyone finds something attractive in the life of this humble priest.
In their March 2017 State of the Nation pastoral statement, Nigeria’s Catholic Bishops lamented the rise in the politics of identity with citizens “retreating to the womb of ethnicity.” In their words, Nigeria was choking in fumes of violence and the endemic rise of militia gangs along ethnic lines. The Bishops were also concerned about an increasingly restive and disillusioned Nigerian youth.
Fr. Nwosu believes that the growing devotion to Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi by Nigerians from all walks of life is a sign of Tansi’s unifying and enduring appeal.
According to Fr. Nwosu, many Nigerians identify with Blessed Tansi who was a catechist, teacher, priest, and monk. Fr. Tansi was a man well-ahead of his time. Apart from being a very prayerful priest, Tansi was zealous in promoting Nigerian family life; the welfare of girls and women as well as championing the plight of the poor and marginalised in parishes where he worked. He firmly believed in the education and future of an enlightened youth. All these are themes that still resonate with Nigerian society, today.
“The cause (for sainthood) has gone a long way. He (Blessed Tansi) is in the last hurdle to sainthood. That is, we need one miracle which will be accepted by the sacred congregation for the causes of saints in the Vatican. If we get that one miracle, the door to sainthood will be opened … We hope God will grant us that miracle. We cannot work a miracle. It is only God who can give us a miracle, but we can request for one,” said Fr. Nwosu.
Blessed Tansi is popular in Nigeria, Africa and even in England where there is a sizeable devotion and pilgrimage to the monastery where Blessed Tansi once lived.
“We believe that as a saint among us … this will trigger and spur evangelization even further and it will promote spiritual living and charity among people. This particular priest was very concerned about the poor, the welfare of the family and the welfare of those who are marginalised in our community,” Fr. Nwosu said.
Fr. Nwosu vividly remembers the historical beatification of Blessed Tansi on 22 March 1998 in Oba, Nigeria, by Pope Saint John Paul II.
At the time of the beatification, Nigeria had a military government. It was not easy to relate with the authorities then, Fr. Nwosu says. There was no stadium or arena for the beatification, just acres, and acres of land that was cleared for the event.
“There was no rain but plenty of dust. Everybody got enough of it (dust) that day, but people did not care; transport -not enough; there were no seats, but people did not mind. Others spent two nights in the open before the beatification...,” Fr. Nwosu recalled.
Iwene Tansi was born in 1903 in Nigeria. He is hailed for his charity, holiness, asceticism, and ability to cope with difficult situations.
At the age of nine, Iwene was baptised, Michael. As a young man, he worked as a catechist and school teacher before entering the major seminary at the age of 22. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Onitsha in 1937. Later, Fr. Michael left Nigeria and went to England where he became a Cistercian monk. He took the name Cyprian because there was already another Michael in the community. He lived in the monastery of Mount St Bernard’s Abbey for 14 years. He died in 1964 at the age of 61. He was buried at the monastery in England but later his body was exhumed and taken back to Nigeria.
Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi’s feast day is 20 January.
(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)