By NBF News
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The Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha, Anambra State was hit by a large over-flow of people. Not even in the political days when rallies were staged in the arena had the Basilica experienced such a monumental surging crowd. They were the Catholic faithfuls, who had gathered to celebrate one of their own, the Blessed Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi, who was declared the patron of Nigerian Catholic priests and the solemnization of 20 new priests.

Canon shot
Intermittently, canon gunshots boomed and as soon as the 20 deacons were ordained priests, the Basilica atmosphere went up in deafening sounds of superior fireworks and shouts from the congregation, which enveloped the entire arena. There was high jubilation all over the place; the day of the congregation has been made.

Indeed, Catholics in Nigeria, particularly those from East of the Niger under the Archdiocese of Onitsha will continue to remember Thursday, June 3, 2010 as a great day in the history of the Catholic calendar.

That memorable Thursday was the day the Catholic Church in Nigeria chose to bring to an end the celebration of the Year of Priests, but which the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) used to declare Father Tansi the patron of Nigerian Catholic priests, as well as ordaining 20 new priests.

Pope Benedict XV1 had on June 19, 2009 declared this year a Year for Priests, saying that he was calling for the special year for priests in an effort to foster the priests' yearning 'for spiritual perfection, upon which the effectiveness of their ministry depends.'

Year of Priest
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, organizers of the Onitsha conference, said that the Holy Father had in his letter on the Year for Priests entitled 'Priesthood is the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,' said among other things tha: 'I have decided to inaugurate a Year for Priests in celebration of the 150th anniversary of dies natalis of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide.

The Pope in choosing St Vianney as a model for the special year, Sunday Sun learnt had observed: 'Here the teaching and example of St John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Cure of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: a good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.'

In a homily presented by the Most Rev (Dr) Joseph E. Ekuwem, Catholic Bishop of Uyo, at a mass organized to mark the special year in the Basilica, he disclosed that the Pope had called on the church to pray for the priests during the year. 'Since then, at the universal, continental, regional, national, right down to provincial, diocesan and parochial levels, we have organized seminars, retreats, colloquia, and so on to deepen our knowledge and appreciation of the priesthood and priests in their ministerial service to the people of God,' he added.

Although the church universally will bring the Year for Priests to an end on June 19, Bishop Ekuwem said that the year at the national level had been closed have closed, adding that they will, however, join the universal church at the concluding ceremonies in a fortnight.

Relevant Celebration
Speaking of the Onitsha event, he said: 'Of great importance and relevance in the celebration of today are the priestly ordination of some candidates within this celebration and the official and public declaration and proclamation of Blessed Cyprain Iwene Tansi as the patron of Nigerian priests, while fervently upholding St John Mary Vianney as the universal patron of parish priests.'

The bishop recalled that in 1859, the Lord called Vianney to eternal bliss in heaven, saying that since his death and canonization, the echoes of his life still resound in the universal church. 'We can see in his glory, a life of miracles; from surmounting tremendous difficulties in the course of his priestly training, to leading a life of personal mortification, prayer and charity as a priest.

'Consequently, the little remote village of Ars, where he was a pastor, became very famous. Today, the great Cure of Ars, who is the universal patron of priests, is a model for priests in his preaching, advice and assistance at the sacrament of reconciliation, holiness of life, humility and pastoral commitments,' he said. Similarly, Bishop Ekuwem said in their reflection on models for priests within the context of the celebration, they also chose to mention the heroism of faith displayed by the Blessed Tansi.

His words: 'Today, having been beatified, he remains a model in the priestly life, especially to us, Nigerian priests.

'We can emulate from his life, the virtues of humility, charity, holiness of life and above all, a conscious struggle, with the help of God's grace, against the yearnings of the flesh and materialism, which the present Pontiff describes as a virus imported into Africa from the Western world. This virus did not affect Tansi, but is affecting many of us Nigerian priests today.'

According to the bishop, Tansi had to travel on foot to visit his widely spread parishes, spending days listening to their confessions, saying that he was available to the people in their times of needs, day and night.

He said that Tansi was eager to give young people good preparation for marriage and counteracted the tradition of 'trial marriages,' which prevailed among the local people at that time, adding that the large Christian populations of many Igbo villages are today witnesses to his zeal.

'The reputation for holiness that he had left in Nigeria before going to Mount Saint Bernard never ceased to grow. After his death, many people claimed to have favours through his intercession. Pope John Paul 2 beatified Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, proclaiming him to be a model of priestly zeal and prayer,' Bishop Ekuwem said.

He enjoined the newly ordained priests to above all love God and their neighbours as themselves, urging them to put God first in all their decisions, their neighbours second and themselves last.

'May the love of God, the Father, the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit abide with you now and for evermore,' he prayed. Speaking to Sunday Sun after the ceremony, the President of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, Most Rev Felix Alaba Job, could not hide his excitement as he expressed happiness and satisfaction that the Year for Priests was well celebrated and completed in a grand style with the ordination of 20 deacons into Catholic priesthood.

He said that the celebration was 'a way of appreciating the priesthood in the church,' as well as 'to help them to answer the call of discipleship to the good of the people and development of the nation.'

His words: 'We have celebrated so well, so joyfully, so that we feel that all our shortcomings would be over-looked, then our strong points would be copied and made better.'

Looking at the declaration of Father Tansi as the patron of Nigerian priests, Bishop Job said that it is the faster horse that other horses look up to run. Explaining, he said though they look up to St Vianney as a holy one, 'we have already got a priest in Nigeria who is already blessed and we want him to be a model for all Catholic priests in Nigeria.'

According to him, throughout the world, St Vianney is the patron saint of priests because he was such a humble hard working, honest to God priest, a man who knew his limitations and despite his limitations was a holy man.

'So, we want our priests not only to imitate the holy man of God, St John Mary Vianney, but to also imitate a Nigerian who enthroned our own vicissitude, a man who suffered like us, who is of our own kith and kin. So, we said let him be an example to our priests,' he said.

First of its kind
Earlier, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State who attended the ceremony with his predecessor in office, Dr Chris Ngige, felicitated with the bishops and the entire Catholic fold for choosing to conclude the activities marking the Year for Priests in his state just as he congratulated the newly ordained priests. Governor Obi was happy that the event took place in Onitsha at the time he was the chief executive of the state, saying that the state has witnessed remarkable events of the church in the past.

'In this Bacillica, we witnessed the ordination of the first Papal Nuncio in Anambra State and now the conclusion of the first world Year of Priests taking place in Anambra State. 'We thank the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria for their contribution in building a better Nigeria. We urge the church that this time more than any time to help us in building a better Nigeria,' Obi said.

He advised Nigerians to challenge their selfishness and greed so as to build a better Nigeria.'Nobody can do it better than you', he said. The governor pledged to work closely with the church as they believed that the church would provide guidelines that would help them to do the right time at all times.

In a chat with Sunday Sun, Dr Ngige said that the decision of the Catholic Church in Nigeria to use the conference to honour Father Tansi was a big honour to the Igbo nation, Nigeria and people of Anambra State in particular.