Sunday, January 20, 2019


I don’t normally get involved in this Blog in politics- especially foreign countries I know nothing about-  but the killings in African countries is disheartening. Nigeria was in the news  last week and reminds me of the feast January 20 of a Nigerian monk.

Seven people were killed in Rann when Boko Haram fighters attacked a military base in remote northeast Nigeria, setting fire to shelters for those displaced by the conflict. Rann currently hosts around 35,000 internally displaced people according to the International Organization for Migration. It has been repeatedly hit in the conflict, exacerbating already dire humanitarian conditions on the ground. The Islamist insurgency which began in 2009 has killed more than 27,000 and some 1.8 million people are still homeless.

But this brings us to our saint of the day-BLESSED CYPRIAN MICHAEL IWENE TANSI who was a Trappist monk and is Nigeria’s patron saint.

Born to non-Christian parents in 1903, he was sent to live with his Christian uncle who gave him an education.  Holy Trinity School in Onitsha, which was run by the .Holy Ghost Fathers, meant  a better education that would help lead the family out of poverty

 He was baptized 3 years later by the  Irish missionaries. Bl. Cyprian was a diligent student with a precocious personality and deep piety. When Iwene was a young child, he became permanently blinded in one eye as a result of a mud-fight with other children.

He worked as a teacher for 3 years and later served as a headmaster of St. Joseph’s school for one year in Aguleri.

In 1925 against the wishes of his family, he entered St. Paul’s Seminary in Igbariam and was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Onitsha in 1937.  He had to travel on foot to visit his widely scattered parishes, spending whole days hearing confessions and was always available to the people in their needs. The large Christian populations of many Igbo villages are a present witness to his zeal.

He felt the call to serve God in a more direct way in a life of contemplation and prayer and, if possible to bring the contemplative monastic life to Nigeria. In 1950 his Bishop was able to free him to try his vocation at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, near Nottingham, England, and to be trained in view of founding a contemplative monastery in the diocese of Onitsha. His new name in the monastery was Father Cyprian. The complete change of lifestyle, particularly living under obedience when he had been a leader of people, the change of climate, food and most of all the culture shock were severe tests, but he was convinced that this is where God wanted him to be.

In 1962 Mount Saint Bernard decided to make the foundation in Africa, but for political reasons it was made in the neighboring country of Cameroon, near Bamenda, rather than in Nigeria. Although he was appointed as Novice Master of the foundation, Father Cyprian was too sick to go. In January 1964, the intense pain in one of his legs was diagnosed as a result of acute thrombosis. However, admitted unconscious on 19 January to the Royal Infirmary of Leicester, tests revealed an aortic neurism, a condition that led to his death the next morning. He died on January 20, a few months after the departure of the founders. 

Interestingly enough, the process for his beatification was first opened in the diocese of Nottingham, but then transferred in 1986 to the Archdiocese of Onitsha. The Archbishop was the present Cardinal Francis Arinze, who had been among the first children baptized by Father Tansi when the latter was a young parish priest.

He is called the Patron Saint of Nigeria’s Democracy because soon after his Beatification in 1998, Nigeria  was miraculously delivered from the tyrannical rule of the military dictator, General Sani Abacha and returned to democracy in 1999.

Mount. Saint Bernard Abbey

Bl. Cyprian used to say, “if you are going to be a Christian at all, you might as well live entirely for God”.
He died on 20 January 1964 and was beatified on 22 March 1998 by Saint John Paul in Nigeria

Speaking in a homily to over three million faithful that gathered for the Papal Mass at Onitsha for the Beatification of Fr. Tansi on 22 March 1998, the visiting Pope St. John Paul II said:

"Today I wish to proclaim [to Nigerians] the importance of reconciliation: reconciliation with God and reconciliation of people among themselves… When we see others as brothers and sisters, it is possible to begin healing the divisions within society. This is the reconciliation, which is the path to true peace and authentic progress for Nigeria and for Africa."

The saintly Pope also said:
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.


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