A One-Way Ticket on the Titanic!

     President Ronald Reagan was in the early years of his first term the last time Pope John Paul II ventured into Nigeria where the true faith was struggling. Now, sixteen years later Catholicism is booming in this west African country, and the man who sits in the oval office is the total opposite of the morals and values Reagan promoted. The scales have tilted to the dark continent for the darkness of the soul has permeated America. Today the Holy Father wraps up a three day visit to Nigeria before winging back to Rome. Yesterday, before teeming throngs of faithful in 95 degree sweltering equator-like conditions, he beatified Nigeria's first son - Father Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi, a native missionary who became a Cistercian and lived out his life in the Abbey of Mount Saint Bernard in Leichestershire, England. Though he had wanted to return to his native land to establish an abbey, it was not to be and Blessed Tansi died of thrombosis in the cold British winter of January 1964 without ever setting foot on African soil again. It is a fitting occasion for the Holy Father to beatify this man during the mid-point of Lent for Blessed Tansi stressed penance and sacrifice as the man who he baptized 1940, Father Hillary Anisiobi, a pastor in Aguleri, Nigeria, remarked, "He lived a very ascetic life. He insisted on chastity. He kept on hammering that, mortifying the flesh and so forth."

     On hand for these special ceremonies was Fr. Tansi's own brother Godwin Nneke, an 89-year old farmer from Igboezunu, Nigeria. Though English is Nigeria's official language, Godwin never attended school, devoting his life to working in the fields, and thus knows no English. But his smile as the Holy Father pronounced the beatification of his brother spoke volumes in any language. The custom among the poorer families in the times Godwin and Michael were growing up were that only one son would be allowed to receive a formal education, while the rest remained toiling and planting. Their mother had been martyred, being forced to consume poison on the false charges of being a witch. The deeply grieved Michael, who had been awarded the education, made the most of it, and entered the seminary in atonement for the wrong done his mother, while Godwin accepted all as God's will and remained faithful to his vocation as well - to work by the sweat of his brow and help raise the rest of the family his entire life. But Michael is the one being recognized, chiefly on account of miracles attributed to him after his death. This, of course, is necessary in the process of canonization and the case for Fr. Tansi was made in 1986 when his remains were exhumed in England and returned in the coffin to his native land. One woman, Philomena Nnana who is now 29 recalls that she had terminal cancer and not expected to live. Her last request was to touch Fr. Tansi's casket. As she reached out she says "it was like a bag of cement on my stomach melted. Everything disappeared and I felt well again." Indeed, she was totally healed to the astonishment and delight of all. Today she is alive and well because of the intercession of Blessed Tansi, who gave everything he had to his people, strolling miles on end through villages to administer the sacraments and minister to his people. Yet he had always wanted to be a contemplative and, since there were no monasteries in Nigeria, the Strict Observance of the Cistercians beckoned. and in 1950, he answered the call.

     Now nearly half a century later there are many Fr. Tansis who are ready to answer the call to come to America, where priest-shortage is at the crisis point. Cardinal Francis George, OMI of Chicago has offered the solution of importing foreign priests to answer this decline in the States. He likens it to the earlier days of the Church in America when Irish, Polish, German and Eastern European priests all migrated to America to serve the needs of the varied cultures of American cities, such as Chicago, New York, etc. For years growing up we would spend Lent collecting pennies and spare change to adopt pagan babies overseas, we would marvel at the stories told by missionaries to these foreign missions and do all in our power to pray for them and collect Rosaries, holy cards, etc. for them to take back with them. Those were the days when America supplied the bulk of the missionaries to Africa, South America and Eastern Europe as well as other countries. But times have changed, the well has run dry in the west, while on the other side of the Atlantic, particularly in Africa and Poland vocations are thriving. In Africa alone there is such an abundance of seminarians and young priests that they cannot find work for them. We have had more than a few letters over the years from young African priests who were looking for work in America, but so often, Diocesan officials would nix the idea.

     While the Diocese of Dallas is fairly conservative, the editor of their house organ, the Texas Catholic is quite liberal in scope. The executive editor Bronson L. Havard, who this editor has taken to task more than a few times, wrote a few months ago on the subject of importing foreign priests: "Already, in several places, bishops are importing priests to solve their shortage problem. Archbishop George, however, threatened to set off a stampede." His tone indicates the good Cardinal is running amok, out of control; whereas Havard praises the accomplishments of George's predecessor Cardinal Joseph Bernardin whom the modernists have held up for canonization. Havard's rationale holds no spirituality when he says, "Today, the situation is dramatically different. American Catholics are largely well educated and have moved into the mainstream of society. A priest from a developing nation often comes to America without skills and experience to handle our language, materialism, secularism, feminism and even democracy. Even the best educated Polish priest will find American Catholic families are far from the tightly knit families of his homeland and are often not recognizable as staunchly denominational in their outlook. Also, today American Catholics appear intolerant of priests who are autocratic in dealing with lay persons. Even some of our homegrown priests are having difficulties with this country's complex problems."

     Reading between the lines you can see what he's getting at; he's taking a clever poke, as liberals are wont to do, at the Pope - "the best educated Polish priest" and telling him and the rest of those "foreigners" that "if you're not in the mainstream of American culture and politics, you don't stand a chance and we're not giving you a chance." Did you notice that, nowhere in his diatribe on why foreign priests won't fit, was there any mention of Church teaching, doctrine, traditions or spirituality? Again, that's the agenda of so many liberals and those who believe their agenda is more important than Rome's. Oh, they'll follow the Holy Father as long as it fits their idea of Church; when it conflicts with their agenda they'll hide behind the "obedience clause" by extolling a member of the Magisterium such as Bernardin while ignoring what the Vicar of Christ has said. And that "best educated Polish priest" who went on to become the 264th successor of Peter and possibly one of the greatest and most influential pontiffs ever, has more than on a few occasions encouraged the exchange of values - pleading for the "have countries" to help the "have nots" in time, talent and treasures. He has requested America help third world countries with material matters and third world countries help America with spiritual matters. Wise counsel that presents a win-win situation for all.

      Though many sees have set up new Ordination and Review boards, foreign priests are often rejected. Why? Many point to the fact that the education standards in Africa are far below the ideals of America. Oh, really? Maybe scholastically, but spiritually they're higher. But they use the trite excuse that today American Catholics are no longer the "blue-collar obedient types" who grew up in the thirties, forties and fifties in cultural communities, but much more educated and not as tightly-knit as their ancestors. The foreign priests would be lost in dealing with the complex social issues in America today and wouldn't "fit in" or "relate to Americans." Please! Give us a break! Talk about small minded, talk about condoning what is happening in our culture today, talk about caving in to modernism, talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth and turning away! All of this is what they are doing by rejecting Cardinal George's wise discernment of the vocation problem in America. What's wrong with more Fr. Tansi types here in the States? What's wrong with more Cure d'Ars type priests in America. Father John Vianney was not educated, was not as "up" on the social issues of France as his parishioners; in fact he disdained these mores the people held. Rather than condone and compromise the sinful lifestyle most of his parishioners led for the "sake of unity" or to keep the coffers full, he did what was right. He spoke from his heart and he spoke God's truth. Maybe at first no one wanted to hear it, but as time went on and prayer took effect, the fruits manifested themselves through this holy saint and the entire parish converted to God's Will, not man's will. That is the problem with the roadblock preventing foreign priests to come to America as missionaries to the lost here, the decision makers don't want to "rock the boat," they don't want to have to conform to "God's Will" for they are in their comfort zone of man's will. By bringing untainted foreign priests in who hold spirituality above intellectualism, they realize they would have to make changes. Though they would definitely be changes for the better, they are changes that would deprive the "roadblockers" of the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to. God forbid someone would come in and stress the sacraments, prayer, fasting and what Jesus and His Blessed Mother want!

     But many in America are resisting, from the president down to the Catholic parishioner who is so misguided by those steering them right toward that iceberg of schism. Just like that fateful voyage the Titanic took in the Spring of 1912, when Michael Tansi was but a mere nine years old, the American Catholic Church is on a collision course, oblivious to their claims of invincibility, their stubborn resistance to adhere to what Rome asks, their insistance that they are right and they are unsinkable in their resolve to convince all that we won't need "lifeboats." The lifeboats are needed. The lifeboats in the mold of more Fr. Tansi's, Fr. Vianney's and others of that caliber can help assure all Catholics that they will make it through the perilous seas of materialism, modernism, and American morals today and reach the shores of salvation. The perks of importing more foreign priests will also reap rewards in renewed vocations in America, something sorely lacking today. It is a fact that the return to reverence and spirituality is a must for the Church to survive in America, and, right now, with most of the good priests dying off or growing older and seminaries quite barren here in the States, only the humble, sincere, dedicated and untainted men of Holy Orders from foreign countries, who are considered by the elite to be "steerage," can provide stabilization to a Church in the throes of tilting. Not to give them safe passage is akin to a one-way ticket on the Titanic!

Michael Cain, editor

Daily CATHOLIC          March 23, 1998