Terminally ill Bishop of East Anglia tells flock that he intends to die in office
Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia has told Catholics in his diocese that he has only weeks to live, but that he will continue as their bishop until the end.
In a letter read at Mass in churches across the diocese on Sunday the bishop, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago, said: “In the last few weeks, the cancer has rather quickly taken control. My oncology and palliative care consultants informed me openly and honestly just before Christmas that I now probably have only weeks to live, and I am as prepared for that as I can be, accepting it with faith as a gift of God’s grace.”
Bishop Evans, who was born in south London in 1951, was appointed as the third bishop of the diocese in 2003, succeeding Bishop Peter Smith, now Archbishop of Southwark.
In his letter he said: “Over the last five and more years, since my diagnosis with advanced prostate cancer, I have managed to cope with my developing illness, its ongoing treatment, the general decline in my health, and generally – I think – continued my ministry as best I can.”
He accepted that not everyone will have been happy with his work as bishop.
“We have moved forward and outward together as a diocese, although not all of you may be have been happy with the directions we have taken. I am sorry for any ways I have failed in my ministry during those years. There remain a number of difficulties on my desk which will need to be handled by others.”
There had been speculation in the Catholic press that Bishop Evans might retire because of his ill-health, but in his letter he says that he would prefer to stay on.
“Rather than resign, I would like to continue among you as your bishop and the father of our diocesan family until this stage of my life ends. I do not know how long that will be. I am most grateful for the ways you have cared for and so prayerfully supported me in recent years. You remain very much in my thoughts and care. As I am sure you understand, I am able to do very little, and will need to rely on others. Please can I ask you to limit any expressions of care to prayer for now, rather than anything else to which I cannot respond.”
Bishop Michael Evans was educated at Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury and went straight from school to study for the priesthood at St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, Surrey. He was ordained priest in 1975 and after gaining a Master of Theology degree at Heythrop College lectured in Christian Doctrine at St John’s for eight years, becoming vice-rector in 1985, with the then Mgr Peter Smith as rector. He spent six years as a university chaplain at the South London Universities Chaplaincy before returning to St John’s as vice-rector from 1993 to 1995.
He served as parish priest at St Augustine’s in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, from 1995 to 2003, describing this as “the ministry I have loved most”. In his priestly ministry he worked closely with young people, especially older teenagers and young adults. For over 27 years he spent a week’s retreat every year at the ecumenical community at Taizé in France, and after becoming Bishop of East Anglia he would invite young adults from the diocese to accompany him there each year.
He was appointed a Canon Theologian of the Archdiocese of Southwark in 1996. In 2003, on being appointed Bishop of East Anglia, which includes Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, he said he was “astonished”, and had “a real sense of my unworthiness for this responsibility”.
For 20 years Bishop Evans has been deeply involved in work for Christian unity; since 1997 he has been one of eight Catholic members of the International Joint Commission for Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council. He is chairman of the Bishops’ Conference Committee for Christian Unity, and is one of the four Christian co-Presidents of the Christian-Muslim Forum established by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2006.
At a service in St John’s Cathedral Norwich last March, marking the 30th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Romero, Bishop Evans recalled being in El Salvador five years earlier, representing the bishops of England and Wales.
“I celebrated Mass at the very spot where Romero was shot,” he said, quoting the plaque on the wall behind the altar: “At this altar, Monseñor Romero offered his life to God for his people.” He said that this fitted well with the diocesan theme for the year, “I offer my life to God”, and that “we can all be inspired by Romero’s joyful love for God and his people, and his readiness to offer his life for them”.
In his letter on Sunday Bishop Evans said: “I have received wonderful care from Dr Adrian Harnett and everyone at the Colney Centre at the Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital, and the local surgery, and I would like to thank them for their dedication which continues. My thanks also to so many people in our team at the White House [diocesan HQ] and across our diocese.”
Bishop Evans’s letter, on the diocesan website, is entitled “Waiting in joyful hope…” It concludes: “As I live now under the shadow of death, my prayer is very much that of St Paul, that I may know something of the power of Christ’s resurrection and a share in his sufferings, trusting that the Lord is with me. I pray that even now I can joyfully witness something of the good news we are all called to proclaim.”