IS ALIVE IN NIGERIA
By Father Emmanuel Nwosu
Fr. Iwene Tansi is alive in Nigeria, he speaks through the "living words" which he preached and witnessed by his life and ministry. He is leading and influencing the life of many Nigerians. He is our brother and extraordinary benefactor. As an elder brother who has gone before us faithfully following Christ, he inspires hope in that which is yet to come; his manner of life, and the works of grace in him lend fresh courage and confidence to our own faltering steps. His life style, fidelity and dedication to his vocation seem to show us "a most safe path by which, among the vicissitudes of this world and in keeping with the state in life and condition proper to each one of us, we will be able to arrive at perfect union with Christ, that is holiness" (LG 50).
The priests and the religious particularly in Nigeria will have a lot to learn from Fr. Iwene Tansis priestly ministry and spirituality. The uncompromising and wholehearted manner in which he gave himself to the demands of the kingdom in his priestly vocation, shines out against the background of our often poor efforts. His eagerness to risk all, in particular his adventure to Mount St. Bernard Abbey to bring the monastic apostolate to Nigeria, his readiness to dare difficult and dangerous tasks, his willingness to leave all for the sake of the Christ he loved, make him in a way Gods messenger to Nigerian people. So simple was the simplicity of his person, the poverty of his life, the means of his apostolate and the unceasing upward reaching of his whole being to God, that he is within the reach of every priest and religious.
The monastic Apostolate in Nigeria has his personal inspiration. Leaving a very flourishing pastoral ministry in 1950, Fr. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi travelled to Mount S. Bernard to become a Cistercian monk. Most Nigerians had the hope that one day he would bring this apostolate to Nigeria. He died only a few months before the team of monks he was to lead to make a foundation in the Cameroon and not in Nigeria departed without him. Since his death the monastic vocation has been flourishing in Nigeria. Fr. Tansi is in a way a pioneer-father in the monastic apostolate in Nigeria.
Fr. Tansi as a good shepherd of souls fostered vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. He prepared the background for vocations and followed up every vocation providing every assistance and spiritual direction. His parish house was a mini seminary during the seminary vocation. Today his great concern for vocation should be imitated. Today many of his spiritual sons and daughters among priests and religious testify that he still has a great influence on their vocation. Further more, all Nigerians cannot follow him to the priesthood and the monastic life but every one has a lesson to learn from his life. His ardent love of God, great concern for the things of the other world, are all within the reach of every one.
More fundamentally, the message of his life and mission must be sought in the analysis of the spiritual condition of the contemporary Nigeria, while not overlooking the vast amount of good done by Christians and by many who are not Christians in Nigeria, it must be squarely faced that ours is a "post era of primary evangelisation" in which it is becoming more and more difficult to live and witness the Christian ideals professed during the primary evangelisation. A period when the power of money and all it can offer seem to sound a threat to spiritual values. Many Nigerians getting caught up the desire for earthly things are in danger of regarding religion as secondary. Fr. Tansi seems with a clear vision of a prophet to see the direction which Nigeria was taking and resorted not by argument or disputation but to giving to his life a meaning which is at one transcendent and theological, which meaning was contained in his complete dedication to God in love, prayer, service, accepting everything that came his way. Furthermore, it is a meaning which loudly and clearly protests against over attachment to wealth, luxurious and extravagant spending, and neglect of the poor and needy. By his own labours in the field he has shown us what we ourselves can and must do.
Following such example to learn the practical teaching contained in Fr. Iwene Tansis life will not result in mere imitation which would deprive us of initiative and could certainly discourage us. His life and teaching will, however, pin point these areas where we must labour by making us reflect on our possibilities. In this way our work as Christians will become a prolongation of his and indeed of the Gospel.
HE SPEAKS TO PRIESTS
The priesthood was the centre of his activities. We find the true Fr. Tansi in the celebration of the Eucharist and the ministry of confessions. These two are the most that qualify a priest: "In fact priests are formed to offer the sacrifice of the Mass and to forgive sins; to offer themselves as living and holy hosts, acceptable to God" (Presb. Ord.). Because he was a Priest, Fr. Tansi transformed every moment of his life into a sacrifice, in the Mass he offers himself to the Father as a victim with the victim, a host with the host in the spirit of service to the people and not as a man of power who rules his congregation. In fact in his service he is always one with the people, not a number of an aloof but a man of the people.
Fr. Tansi lived his priesthood with absolute rigour, remaining like his master. He is not bent on extracting respect, but his only concern is love and service. He lived for the love of God and his brothers. He prays for his people and shows them how to pray. He is a man of prayer. Prayer seems to be the soul of his apostolate, for him nothing can be done without prayer. He spends long hours in prayer before and after Mass. His parishioners today call him a man of prayer. He taught them that the only means to know oneself and to grow in love is through dialogue which is constant prayer. In spite of the heavy and busy apostolate which do not easily allow for prolonged meditation and withdraw, Fr. Tansi for fear of becoming secularised and losing contact with the vital inspiration of his prophetic mission, finds time for prayer ..
we cannot stop admiring Fr. Tansis pastoral approach to the problems of his time. The principle which guided his actions is still valid today. He follows with great joy and fidelity the Gospel he preaches, relying greatly on the inner power to illumine, strengthen and perfect his apostolate .
The heroism of the virtues of Fr. Tansi for which he will be raised to the honours of the altar will definitely be the fruit of his heroic authentic priesthood.
Nigerian Postulator of the Cause