Schedule set for Pope’s Nigeria trip
20 February, 1998
VATICAN (CWN) — The Vatican today made public a preliminary schedule for the trip by Pope John Paul II to Nigeria in March.
The Pope will arrive at the airport in Abuja on Saturday afternoon, March 21, and conclude the day with a courtesy call on the Nigerian head of state, General Sani Abacha. The following day he will preside at the beatification of Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi in Onitsha, in the east of the country, and remain there to pray the Angelus at midday. Then he will return to Abuja for a meeting with Islamic leaders. On Monday, March 23, the Holy Father will celebrate Mass in Abuja and meet with the country’s bishops there before leaving for Rome in the afternoon.
Nigerian Catholics ready for Pope’s visit in March
07:55 a.m. Mar 07, 1998 Eastern
By Eniwoke Ibagere
ONITSHA, Nigeria, Mar 7 (Reuters) – Nigeria’s Catholic community is ready to receive Pope John Paul when he visits later this month to beatify a local priest, a spokesman said.
“I can say categorically that we are ready to host the Pope as all things needed are in place. The Catholic community is longing to see the Pope during his visit,” Archbishop Albert Obiefuna, host of the Nigerian Catholic Bishops conference in eastern Onitsha town, told Reuters on Friday.
The Catholic bishops held a conference from March 3 to 6 in Onitsha to discuss the Pope’s visit.
The Pope would visit Nigeria from March 21 to 23, his second to the African country, and would beatify late Father Cyprien Iwene Tansi, a monk who died in 1964.
Tansi is the first Nigerian to be beatified, the last stage before sainthood. March 22 is the date for the beatification ceremony which would take place at Oba airstrip near Onitsha.
Obiefuna said T-shirts, brooches, caps, banners and posters to welcome the Pontiff had been designed and printed. “The facilities for the beatification are near ready,” he said.
“We have constructed facilities such as a vestry, a small chapel and podium necessary for the Pope’s use. We’re now in the painting and decoration stage.”
He said terraces were being constructed on either side of the podium for the more than two million people expected to attend the Papal Mass after Tansi’s beatification.
More than 3,000 Catholic priests and 1,000 seminarians would assist the Pope in administering holy communion at the Mass celebration, he said.
According to the Vatican, the Pontiff’s would also hold a Mass in the capital Abuja on March 23 and meet members of Nigeria’s Episcopal Conference before departing for Rome in the evening.
“Everything for the Abuja Mass is also as good as ready,” Obiefuna said.
The Pope last visited Nigeria in 1982, when millions of people turned out to hear him.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation with 104 million people. About half the population is Moslem and Catholics form less than half the Christian population of more than 25 million.
Bishops call for national reconciliation ahead of pope’s visit
13 March 1998
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) Nigeria’s Roman Catholic bishops said Friday they hoped an upcoming visit by Pope John Paul II would encourage reconciliation between the country’s opposing groups.
“The visit should elicit from all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, a commitment to the values and principles that the pope champions around the world,” the bishops said in an open letter to Catholics.
During his March 21-23 visit, the pope will visit Abuja, the capital, and the eastern city of Enugu before stopping in Onitsha to beatify a priest who died about 10 years ago, the Rev. Michael Iwene Tansi….
The pope last visited Nigeria in 1982, when he ordained 100 priests from around the country. Ten percent of the country’s 90 million people are Catholic. About half are Muslim.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.
FEATURE – Nigerian’s road to sainthood led far from home
09:10 p.m Mar 14, 1998 Eastern
By Matthew Tostevin
IGBOEZUNU, Nigeria, March 15 (Reuters ) – Godwin Nneke’s brother is not much more than a step away from becoming Nigeria’s first saint.
Nneke hopes he will be there on Sunday (March 22) when Pope John Paul beatifies Father Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi, and places the former monk on the last stage before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
After the special mass near Onitsha, which will bless Tansi’s exhumed remains before an expected crowd of up to two million, Nneke will return the 25 miles (40 km) to Igboezunu where he has lived for the 89 years he guesses his life has spanned.
“He’s an ordinary farmer,” said Father Jeremiah Nwosu, interpreting for Nneke, who never went to school and speaks only Ibo and not a word of English, Nigeria’s official language.
“He’s very happy that his brother is on the way to becoming a saint,” added Nwosu on behalf of Nneke whose muscles shake with years of toil at this hamlet far from the madding crowd.
In a tale familiar across Africa, only one child in the poor family was to get a formal education.
Tansi, born in 1903, went to school. The other children hoed and planted to support the household.
The missionary education at nearby Aguleri was the first stage of Tansi’s journey far from the lush tropics to his death as a monk during the British winter of 1964.
From the grave, Tansi has won a large and growing following of people sure he has answered their prayers. He has at least one miracle to his name, confirmed by the Vatican and a necessary qualification for becoming a saint.
“I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t eat or drink,” said 29-year-old Philomena Nnana, who was suffering from seemingly terminal cancer at the Holy Rosary specialist hospital in Onitsha when Tansi’s remains were brought back from Britain in 1986.
“I asked to touch the coffin and it was like a bag of cement on my stomach melted. Everything disappeared and I felt well again,” she told Reuters in Onitsha.
But for the miracle, and a trip to the Vatican to give evidence on Tansi’s behalf, Nnana’s life has been typical of the Nigerian market city. She makes a little money as a petty trader and is married to a dealer in prescription drugs. She has given birth to three children and two are still alive and healthy.
“I have a lot to be thankful for. I always say a special prayer for Father Tansi and bring flowers to his tomb on the anniversary of his death,” she said. “Some people like to touch me because of the miracle. They like to be blessed.”
TANSI DEFIED TRADITION
These days the people of Igboezunu are proud of Tansi, but in the 1920s they could not understand how he could desert tradition and family duty by joining the priesthood to become a ‘slave’ to God.
Deities worshipped before the arrival of European missionaries still play a part in the lives of many in the heartland of the overwhelmingly Christian Ibo people, who make up at least 15 million of Nigeria’s more than 104 million population.
In the 1920s the traditions held even more power.
Tansi’s mother was accused of being a witch and forced to drink poison in a trial by ordeal which killed her.
Tansi, by that time a teacher, entered a seminary on the banks of the nearby River Niger in 1925 and was ordained in 1937.
Surviving parishioners say he walked tirelessly around the villages he served; hearing confessions, baptising the new-born and burying the dead. But at the back of his mind was a calling to become a monk and lead a life of prayer, contemplation and poverty.
In 1950 his wish was granted to join the Abbey of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance at Mount Saint Bernard in Leicestershire, England, where he stayed until his death from thrombosis in January 1964 without returning to Africa.
“He lived a very ascetic life. He insisted on chastity. He kept on hammering that. Mortifying the flesh and so forth,” said Father Hillary Anisiobi, the current parish priest at Aguleri who was baptised by Tansi in 1940 and now sleeps in his old room.
“He never looked behind him, never. He always walked straight ahead, just like that.”
Wednesday General Audience at St. Peter’s Square
VATICAN CITY, MAR 18, 1998 (VIS) – In his multi-lingual greetings to pilgrims, following today’s general audience catechesis in St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father had special words for groups from the United States, Nigeria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic….
John Paul II extended “a special welcome to the representatives of the Nigerian Catholic community in Rome as I prepare to set out for your beloved country for the beatification of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, the first Nigerian ‘Blessed’.”
Papal Nigeria trip
04:20 a.m. Mar 19, 1998 Eastern
By Steve Pagani
VATICAN CITY, March 19 (Reuters) – The Pope’s three-day visit, his 82nd trip outside Italy, comes at a critical time for Abacha as he approaches August elections to choose a civilian president. He is widely expected to stand and is seeking respect both at home and abroad.
It is the Pope’s first trip to black Africa during his 20 year papacy which has been confined to one country. Vatican officials want to avoid overtiring the frail Pontiff, who turns 78 in May, particularly in temperatures that can reach more than 40 degrees Centigrade.
After arriving in the capital Abuja on Saturday, the Pope meets Abacha for a courtesy visit at State House.
On Sunday, he flies to Onitsha for what the Vatican considers the main event of the visit — the beatification of ascetic monk Cyprian Michael Tansi, who died in 1964.
More than a million people are expected to attend the ceremony at Oba airstrip near the town.
In the Roman Catholic Church, beatification is the penultimate step before sainthood.
Tansi is regarded as having done much to promote religious vocations in Nigeria, improve education, particularly for women, and tried to bring together the country’s diverse religious and ethnic groups.
Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said Tansi left a message to Nigerians to love one another and to create a united nation.
“To the citizens of Nigeria and Africa, he said: ‘Create a society without ethnic frontiers or language barriers’,” Arinze, who will accompany the Pope on his trip, told Vatican Radio in an interview.
About half the Nigerian population is Moslem, 11 percent Roman Catholic, 26 percent other Christian denominations and the rest animist. More than 200 ethnic groups constitute a greater force for division in Nigerian society than religion.
Tansi’s appeal for the breaking down of barriers, especially religious ones, has been one of the Pope’s main quests during his papacy.
He meets Moslem leaders after returning to Abuja from Onitsha on Sunday in what is bound to be a sensitive encounter. A similar meeting scheduled during the Pope’s last visit to Nigeria in 1982 fell through at the last minute.
Huge crowds are also expected in Abuja on Monday when the Pope celebrates mass in the capital. He returns to Rome later that day after meeting members of the Nigerian bishops’ conference.
ARCHBISHOP ALBERT OBIEFUNA of Onitsha Archdiocese speaks…
interview by Giampaolo Mattei, translated from Italian language (cf. L’Osservatore Romano, Edizione speciale, 19 marzo 1998, p.8)
What does the beatification of Father Tansi by the Pope on Sunday 22 March at Onitsha mean for the Church in Nigeria?
The beatification of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi is a milestone in the annals of the CatholicChurch in West Africa. The Church, particularly in Nigeria, is happy and grateful to God for this historic event. The faith which was brought into the country in 1860 is maturing and producing lasting fruits. Nigeria is a vast and pluralistic country from the religious point of view. Father Tansi was born in the eastern part that is strongly Christian. His beatification will be a clear recognition of the courage and the life of Christian witness by many Nigerian Catholics, men and women. It will also be a great encouragement and a model for young and old people, for priests, for religious and for the laity that continue to engage themselves in the work of evangelisation.
Of what relevance today is the witness of Father Tansi?
His witness is relevant in many ways. It is significant that he overcame all the obstacles and oppositions of his time and was able to lead a heroic life and to undertake a total commitment of faith and love. We are talking about the heritage which ought to inspire Christians of today, men and women, to face the challenges that they meet in the mission of witnessing Christ with courage in whichever condition of life they may find themselves.
How prepared is the Church in Nigeria to receive the Pope?
From the moment of the official announcement of the second pastoral visit of the Holy Father to this country was made, preparations at various levels were begun. All Nigerians consider the visit as an important national event. The Government is engaged seriously in the preparations, so also the Catholic Church and groups of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
The Episcopal Conference, in particular, has created different committees. The preparations are also accompanied by intense spiritual activities organised both at the national and diocesan levels. The bishops have exhorted all Catholics to pray for the success of the visit. During the last meeting which took place here in Onitsha from 3 to 6 March, the Bishops have asked all the faithful of this country to recite a novena of prayers. The response of the people was moving.
What is the situation of the Archdiocese of Onitsha?
The Archdiocese of Onitsha is the second most ancient Metropolitan Sees in Nigeria. The Church is full of life and dynamism. The Catholics are more than one million: they are about two-thirds of the total population of the Archdiocese. The people participate actively in the life of Church, through the Sacraments and the organisations of lay apostolate. The vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life are abundant. The biggest problem which the Archdiocese must resolve concerns the formation in faith and the mobilisation of a good majority of the Catholics in parishes.
Here are detailed statistics: the Archdiocese has 300 diocesan priests and 29 religious missionary priests. There are 407 religious, men and women, 350 major seminarians, 800 minor seminarians and thousands of lay people — they also are engaged in the evangelisation of the Archdiocese.
Many priests work as missionaries in various dioceses in Africa, in Europe and in America. There are two monasteries (one for men and another for women), two minor seminaries which have potentials for the foundation of a major diocesan seminary, and different Houses of formation for religious life.
Thousands attend Nigerian night vigil for Pope
04:07 p.m Mar 21, 1998 Eastern
By Eniwoke Ibagere
OBA, Nigeria, March 21 (Reuters ) – Thousands of people streamed on Saturday to a night-time vigil in southeast Nigeria to prepare for the arrival of Pope John Paul.
Parents carrying children, chairs and bundles of food and drink on their heads, gathered at a stadium near the site of Sunday’s planned mass at Oba, some 10 km (six miles) from the regional market centre of Onitsha.
The streaming lines recalled the only too common pictures of refugees to come out of Africa — from a part of Nigeria which suffered its own civil war in the 1960s when hundreds of thousands died of starvation.
But these were happy trekkers.
“It’s fun to be here and on the road to seeing the Pope,” 12-year-old schoolboy Paulinus Nwadike told Reuters.
For Roman Catholics, Sunday’s special mass will be the high point of the Pope’s three-day visit to Nigeria, when the Pontiff beatifies ascetic monk Cyprian Michael Tansi before a crowd which church officials say could pass one million.
Beatification is the penultimate step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
“This night vigil mass is to pray for the safe arrival of the Pope and for peace and success during Sunday’s beatification,” Archbishop of Onitsha Albert Obiefuna told Reuters at the stadium.
The Pope is due to arrive by helicopter at 10.20 (0920 GMT) before starting the beatification ceremony at 11.a.m.
Tansi, who died in an English monastery 1964, did much to promote religious vocations and improve education, particularly for women, in the West African country where he was born into a pagan village family in 1903.
He proclaimed a message of reconciliation which the Pope echoed in his address in the Nigerian capital Abuja when he arrived on Saturday and made an appeal for respect for human rights in the politically-troubled country.
Tansi has developed a huge following among Nigeria’s 12 million or so Roman Catholics and is credited with numerous interventions to help the sick.
The Vatican officially acknowledges one miracle in 1986, when a woman with apparently terminal cancer who touched his coffin completely recovered at a time she had been expected to die.
Tansi’s remains were exhumed from Onitsha on Monday.
Dressed in a cassock and placed in a metal cask they are being kept there until just before the mass — when the age-darkened bones will be blessed by the Pope at the height of the ceremony.
March 22, 1998
From Emeka Ndika PANA Correspondent
OBA, Nigeria (PANA) – Nigeria’s late priest and monk, the Rev. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, was beatified here Sunday at an epic mass celebrated by visiting Roman Catholic Supreme Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, as part of the process in the attainment of sainthood.
Hundreds of thousands of faithfuls, including local and visiting bishops, priests and the laity participated in the mass at the Oba airstrip in eastern Nigeria, Tani’s hometown near the market city of Onitsha.
The large congregation, many of them spotting memorabilias including African print dresses, broaches, caps and vests with the pictures of Tansi and the Pope, emblasoned on them, participated in a vigil mass ahead of the beatification service, which started about 11.15 Gmt.
The Pope, who had arrived Oba to a tumultous welcome in an helicopter via Enugu, the nearest airport where he had landed from Abuja, the Nigerian capital, then proclailed Tansi blessed.
Acceding to the request of our brother Albert Obiefuna, Archibishop of Onitsha and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, the many other brothers in the Espicopate, of many faithful, and of the Cistercian monastic family, and after consultation with the congregation for the causes of saints, by our apostolic authority, we declare that the venerable servant of God, Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, shall hereafter be invoked as blessed, the Pontiff said.
By this rite, the Pope said Tansi’s feast shall be celebrated every year on the 20th day of January, the date of his birth to eternal life in the places and according to the norms established by the church law.
Tansi’s statue was later unveiled. Earlier, his biography was read, indicating that Tansi was born in Aguleri in 1903, ordained a priest in Nigeria in 1937 before he travelled to England where he took the monastic vows as a monk at Mount Saint Bernard in Leicester. Tansi died in 1964 and was buried in England, but his remains were exhumed and reburied in Onitsha in 1986.
Beatification is the first stage in the process of attainment of sainthood, according to the Catholic doctrine, which prescribes strict rites including incontrovertible miracles associated with a person being so proclaimed.
Catholic records have already ascribed one such miracle to Tansi, involving a Nigerian woman, Philomina Emeka, who was said to be suffering from terminal cancer but reportedly got healed after she touched Tansi’s casket, when his remains were brought to Nigeria for reburial in 1964.
And only last Friday in Onitsha, seven passengers escaped death after the Peugeot car in which they were travelling sommersaulted several times and spinned into the bank of River Niger, near the site where Tansi’s remains had been reburied.
Many Catholics attribute this feat to Tansi’s holiness. The beatification mass was also a mixture of Nigerian culture and religion, with a liturgy that featured traditional dances and rites by Tansi’s Aguleri Royal Fathers, some bearing elephant tusks.
Among dignitaries at the mass, were Nigeria’s former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme and Emeka Ojukwu, who led eastern Nigeria in the failed Biafra rebellion during the 1967-70 civil war years.
The Pope returns to Abuja later Sunday for a meeting with Nigerian Muslim leaders as part of the agenda of his three-day Nigerian visit ending Monday.
It is his second pastoral visit to the country with the largest catholic population in Africa south of the Sahara, after his first tour in 1982.
Copyright © 1998 Panafrican News Agency.