Pope John Paul II was determined
to broaden our sense of holiness.
To that end, he beatified and canonized
more holy people than any pope
who had preceded him. One of those he
beatified is Blessed Cyprian Michael
Iwene Tansi, who brought Christianity
to his neighbors and worked to bring
the charism of contemplative prayer to
the Church in Nigeria.
What drove Blessed Cyprian was his
love of the Lord and his devotion to
spreading that love to the people of
his culture. Many of them had never
before been invited to the fullness of
life in Christ.
Active, Yet Contemplative
Iwene Tansi was born in southern Nigeria
to a family which included four
brothers. His parents wished a better
livelihood for him and sent the two-year-old to live with relatives. They enrolled
him in a Christian school where
he was inspired to become a priest.
• 1903 Born in Igboezunu, Nigeria, named Iwene
• 1912 Baptized in Nduka, named Michael
• December 8, 1955 Given name of Cyprian as a Trappist novice
• January 20, 1964 Died at a Trappist monastery in England
• March 22, 1998 Beatified by Pope John Paul II
After his ordination in 1937, he began
a school. He established programs
to protect young women from exploitation,
common in his area. Later in life,
he went to England to become a Trappist,
hoping to live a monastic life in
Nigeria. The Trappists ultimately chose
neighboring Cameroon as the site of
their foundation. But Father Tansi died
before he could move there.
Young Francis Arinze had been a student
at the school Father Cyprian began.
Arinze was inspired there to pursue
ministry himself. Now a cardinal,
he heads the Vatican’s Congregation
for Divine Worship. At his mentor’s
beatification, Cardinal Arinze reminded
us all, “Saints are ordinary men and
women who come from your villages.”
Holy people strike each of us differently,
in our own place along the way of faith.
The early death of Blessed Cyprian’s
father touched me because I was a teen
when my own father died. Many whose
parents have died too soon are left with
what my friend Richard Rohr, O.F.M.,
calls a “hole in the soul,” an experience
that becomes a key to understanding
life in its deepest sense. To me, it’s no
surprise that Blessed Cyprian pursued a
contemplative lifestyle and wanted to
share that with others. He was devoted
to reconciliation, a theme that Pope
John Paul II highlighted at his beatification.
He preached and promoted
peace in a land of divisions.
What of his people who, as one biographer
says, “found the faith for themselves”?
The seed of faith, of course, was
planted by Christian missionaries, another
connection for me and anyone
else who has aspired to spread the faith.
But, as the late African missionary
Father Vince Donovan describes in
Christianity Rediscovered, African peoples
were filled with a lively faith before
the Christians arrived. Christianity gave
language, form and ultimate meaning
to that which the Holy Spirit was
Could this be a message for all of us
who seek to pass on our faith today?
Rather than worry about doing it all
ourselves—a worry to which I am particularly
prone—we do well to respect
what we find. In the words of Blessed
Cyprian, “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.”
Next: Alojzije Stepinac
“When we see others as brothers and sisters, it is then possible to begin
the process of healing the divisions within society and between ethnic
groups. This is the reconciliation which is the path to true peace and authentic
progress for Nigeria and for Africa. This reconciliation is not weakness
or cowardice. On the contrary, it demands courage and sometimes even
heroism: it is victory over self rather than over others. It should never be
seen as dishonor. For in reality it is the patient, wise art of peace.”
—homily from the Mass of beatification