Cardinal Francis Arinze was baptised into the Catholic Church on November 1, 1941, his ninth birthday. He was a child eager to convert to Christianity from a traditional African religion, not because of the wishes of adults or others around him, but of his own volition and by the grace of God.

The man who received him into the faith was Blessed Cyprian Tansi, at the time a parish priest whose example of great holiness left an impression on the boy that has endured for a lifetime. This was the priest who, perhaps most significantly, helped to teach Arinze to recognise and love Our Lord present in the Eucharist.

“He was the first priest I ever knew,” recalls Cardinal Arinze, now 85. “He gave me the first sacraments – baptism, then penance and Holy Communion. He prepared me for Confirmation and I was his Mass-server in 1945.

“He was what you would like to see in a parish priest – zealous, sincere. When he celebrated Mass you saw that he believed what he was celebrating, so his life was attractive in itself. It was no surprise that wherever he worked there were many seminarians and women going into religious life.”

Among them was Arinze himself. He entered the All Hallows seminary of the Archdiocese of Onitsha at 15 and proved to be an outstanding student. He passed the Cambridge School Certificate in 1950, the year that Blessed Cyprian left Nigeria to join the Cistercians at Mount St Bernard in Leicestershire. In 1955 Arinze moved to Rome where he attained a doctorate in Sacred Theology summa cum laude from the Pontifical Urban University. He was ordained in 1958.

He attended the funeral of Blessed Cyprian in England in 1964, and has actively promoted his Cause for canonisation ever since, admitting that he fought to control his enthusiasm when it was first opened.

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