Cardinal Francis Arinze reflects...
MICHAEL IWENE TANSI, O.C.S.O.:
A MODEL PRIEST FOR OUR TIMES.
On 22 March 1998 the Holy Father is going to beatify the Ven. Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, o.c.s.o., at Onitsha in Nigeria. Father Tansi is in many ways a priest who has a message for our times.
Born at Aguleri, in the Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria, in 1903, Michael Iwene Tansi was ordined diocesan priest in Onitsha Cathedral in 1937, he worked as an assistant priest at Nnewi for two years and was then parish priest at Dunukofia (1939-1945), Akpu (1945-1949) and Aguleri (1949-1950). He entered Mt St. Bernard Cistercian Monastery near Coalville, Leicester, in England, in 1950 and there he died on 20 Jan 1964. The actuality of the Ven Father Tansi for our times can be seen from the following considerations.
1. Pastor: As a priest, Fr. Tansi was devoted to his people. He was available. He catechized; he inspired catechists; and he himself conducted the final test for those for the various Sacraments of Christian initiation. He preached clear and incisive homilies which people recall even after 50 years. He was courageous in preaching the whole Gospel and all the commandments without discount or equivocation. He heard Confessions with zeal. The parish which he initiated and animated with as means of travel a push bicycle and an old motor-cycle which often broke down is now divided into at least 14 parishes.
2. Promotion of Women and Families
Father Tansi promoted the status of women. He insisted that betrothed girls should attend a 6-month marriage training centre where they were taught Catholic doctrine, home keeping, Christian family traditions, sewing, knitting, etc. He thus laid solid foundations for Christian families. He opposed the Igbo practice of men calling their wives "onye be m" (the person of my house) because this suggests inequality of the spouses.
3. Educator: Fr Tansi promoted education in many senses of the word. He ran primary schools and succeeded in inspiring teachers, like headmaster Patrick N. Okeke, who saw their role not just as teachers but as formators of the growing population. At Dunukofia, Father Tansi built boarding-houses for pupils in Standards 5 and 6 (around 11 or 12 year olds). These boys lived there from Sunday evening to Friday afternoon. They had fixed times for morning and evening prayers. They took turns in serving Mass which they all attended each morning when Fr Tansi was not visiting the many outstations of the parish. Fr Tansi himself read "Spiritual Reading" to them for 15 minutes each day.
Fr Tansi, himself a footballer in his youth, appreciated the place of sports in the education of the young.
4. Vocations Promoter:
Father Tansi did much to promote priestly and religious vocations. His personal life witness was the best argument. He was a man entirely for God, happy and singleminded in his answering of Gods call. It is remarkable that the areas where he worked had and still have a high flowering of priestly and religious vocations.
Father Tansi educated especially the young in the virtue of chastity and thus made them ready for Christian marriage or for priesthood or the religious life.
5. Eucharistic Faith
Father Tansi had strong faith in the Holy Eucharist. He celebrated Mass in a way that inspired faith. His Eucharistic Benediction celebrations nourished faith. Even the way he genuflected showed his eucharistic faith. He prayed for long hours in the Chapel by day and by night.
6. Sense of the Church
Father Tansi loved the Church. He never criticized the Bishop or the Pope. He ran the parish in such a model way that once the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Charles Heerey, C.S.S.p., said to his priests: "Go to Dunukofia and see the wonders which Father Michael is doing". And at that time, 95% of the priests were Irish Spiritans.
Fr Tansi was known to be a very ascetical priest. He ate little. His cook did not have much work, except when he had visitors. And yet Fr Tansi was very generous with his visitors.
Once he said to his visiting seminarian (who later became Bishop Godfrey Okoye): "Promise me that you will do whatever I request". The innocent seminarian promised. When it was time to go to bed, he pointed out to the embarrassed seminarian his portable bed, while he himself sat on a chair the whole night.
Fr Tansi either wore the soutane or long khaki trousers and khaki long sleeve shirt. He insisted on himself and others walking at the same pace, whether it was fine weather or was raining.
Fr Tansi was not a champion of inculturation understood as the incorporation of local cultures in the Christian life. It is to be remembered that sixty years ago there was not the clear emphasis on inculturation in the Church to which we are accustomed today. Moreover, local Nigerian culture was not as yet well known to the missionaries. There was yet no university in Nigeria (today there are nearly 40) and no institute of African Traditional Religion.
Nevertheless, Father Tansi lived and explained the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in a way that was authentic, convincing, clear and attractive. He did not believe in compromise with local customs like title-taking ceremonies and masquerading which at that time were permeated with superstitious practices. Today these customs have undergone some change and are now acceptable on certain conditions to Christians in many places, although not everywhere. The firm stand of Father Tansi reminds us that in our efforts to promote inculturation, there should be no compromising of firm points of Christian faith and morals.
9. The Actuality of Father Tansi
Some of the messages which Father Tansi is delivering to Church and Society today are the following:
He is telling everyone, lay, clerical or religious faithful, that we should live entirely for God and that there should be no compromise on the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Fr Tansi gives priests and consecrated people a model of total consecration to the Gospel Message, faith and love without regrets, consecrated chastity lived with generosity and producing abundant fruit in spiritual fatherhood, evangelical simplicity of life-style, radical detachment from earthly goods, and ready obedience to Gods will manifested through the Bishop and Religious Superiors.
Father Tansi is telling Nigerians and other Africans and indeed the wider world to respect women, to live pure lives and to build up healthy families.
To Nigerians and Africans, Fr. Tansi is a model of a citizen who loves his neighbour beyond religious, ethnic and cultural frontiers.
To civil and religious authorities, Fr Tansi shows how to live authority as service and sacrifice of self for the benefit of others.
To Europeans and Africans, Fr Tansi shows how different races can live in harmony and solidarity in recognition of God as our common father.
Father Tansi is telling Africans that all are called to holiness which is the perfection of charity.
The Beatification of the Ven. Father Cyprian Michael Iwene TANSI, o.c.s.o., is indeed of great actuality in our times.
27 February, 1998