March 22, 1998 in Nation/World

Priest’s Piety Brings Pope To Nigerian Village John Paul Ii Will Celebrate Mass As Father Tansi Is Beatified

Ian Stewart Associated Press

They say miracles happen here.

A dusty, remote village of five houses and a church, Aguleri has found a place on the map through the work of a quiet, pious man named Iwene Tansi.

More than three decades after his death, Tansi is to be beatified today by Pope John Paul II - the last step before possible sainthood.

“If you call his name when you pray, we know your prayers will come true,” said Tansi’s only living sibling, Godwin Tansi.

Holding a wooden crucifix in trembling hands, Godwin sat on the front step of his family home. Children crouched around the old man to hear the story of their community’s most famous son.

Born in 1903, Tansi was baptized at age 10 and took the Christian name Michael. He became an altar boy and showed a flair for persuading his friends to attend church.

In 1937 he was ordained. Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi later turned to monastic life at Mount Saint Bernard in Leicester, England, where he died of tuberculosis in 1964.

Tansi is the first African priest who was not a martyr to be so honored. He was cited for his holiness and commitment to the priesthood, on a continent where the celibate life of a priest is often disparaged.

But it was the miracles that his fellow villagers say he performed that left a lasting mark on this settlement.

They say a young girl dying of cancer touched Tansi’s coffin after his remains were sent back to Nigeria in 1986 - and that within days her cancer was gone.

In Aguleri, his brother remembers when Tansi defied an order from the village chieftain against going to the nearby Ovilivo River.

Nobody here recalls why the chieftain ordered the injunction, but they say Tansi gathered water from the stream and mixed with it with sand from the village square. The simple paste was used to soothe sores and cure illness of all kinds, Godwin Tansi says.

Even invoking his name, Godwin says, offers the people of Aguleri protection.

Mary Tansi, another relative, says she cried out his name when a bus she was riding plunged into a ditch. No one aboard was hurt, she said.

“He worked miracles through the grace of God,” said Sister Mary Joseph Anne of the Sisters of Jesus Savior Order.

For beatification, one miracle, certified by a panel of Vatican experts, is required.

Despite his years - which nobody bothered to count - and frail condition, Godwin Tansi on Sunday will make the 20-mile trek along a dirt road to Onitsha, where the pope will say an open-air Mass.

Then, he will watch as John Paul honors Godwin’s older brother’s memory and devotion to the church during the beatification ceremony.

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