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Bishop Michael Evans loses fight against cancer

Bishop Evans persevered in service as a bishop even in the later stages of his cancer (Mazur/

Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia has died after a long battle with prostate cancer.

The 59-year-old bishop passed away on Monday evening in hospital six years after he was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive strain of the disease. Throughout his illness he continued his work right up until his admission to hospital a few days before his death.

His death was greeted with sadness across the Catholic and wider Christian community, with Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark saying: “Bishop Michael will be very much missed by so many people in the Archdiocese of Southwark and the Diocese of East Anglia – family, friends, laity, religious and clergy.”

Born on August 10 1951 in south London, Michael Charles Evans grew up in Kent and attended Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury, going on to study for the priesthood at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, in Surrey.

He was ordained in the Archdiocese of Southwark in 1975 and spent two years as assistant priest at St Elizabeth’s in Richmond, London, and then studied for a theology degree at London University before going back to St John’s Seminary, where he lectured in doctrine.
He spent two years as vice-rector at the seminary, with the then Mgr Peter Smith, later the second Bishop of East Anglia and now Archbishop of Southwark, as rector.

He then served as parish priest at St Augustine’s in Tunbridge Wells for eight years before Pope John Paul II appointed him as the third Bishop of East Anglia in 2003. On his appointment he said he was “astonished” and felt “unworthy”.

In 2006 he was told that he was suffering from an aggressive form of prostate cancer, which affects many men in late middle age. But he continued to work tirelessly in the diocese despite worsening health.

In January 2011 Bishop Evans broke the news to his diocese that he did not have long to live. He wrote: “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 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.”

Archbishop Smith said: “As a priest of the archdiocese, Michael was totally committed to his priestly ministry both as a pastoral priest and professor of theology for many years at St John’s seminary.

“Having known him as a fellow student, a friend and brother priest involved in the formation of future priests, I was delighted when he was appointed as the third Bishop of East Anglia. There Bishop Michael continued that dedication, emphasising the bishop’s role as a teacher of the faith and spending himself in building up the diocesan family of East Anglia.

“He was unstinting in using his time and great talents in the service of the clergy, religious and people of the diocese.”

He added: “Even during his long period of ill-health, although increasingly restricted in what he was able to do, he refused to give up. I have no doubt that he will be greeted by the Lord he served so faithfully, with the words: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the Kingdom prepared for you.’ ”

The Rt Rev Stephen Conway, Anglican Bishop of Ely, also paid tribute. “I am very sad to learn of the death of Bishop Michael Evans,” he said.

“Like Pope John Paul II, Michael’s living with his illness was more eloquent than any sermon about living through human weakness the joy of Christ’s Resurrection.

“He will be remembered in our prayers across the Diocese. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”

A regular writer of articles and pamphlets on theological issues, Bishop Evans always focused on ecumenical dialogue as an important part of his ministry.

From 1991 he was a member of the British Methodist/Roman Catholic Committee and in 1997 was appointed by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity to be one of the eight Catholic members of the International Joint Commission for Dialogue.

Bishop Evans was also one of the four Christian co-presidents of the Christian-Muslim Forum established by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A life-long supporter of Amnesty International, he left the organisation in 2007 after it came out in support of abortion, saying that “it cannot expect those of us who are just as passionate about the human rights of the unborn child to feel at ease being part of such an organisation”.

Much of his priestly ministry was spent working with young people, especially older teenagers and young adults, and every year from 1984 he spent a week’s retreat at the ecumenical community at Taizé in France, and as a bishop invited young adults from the diocese to accompany him.

From 1989 to 2003, he was a member of the Catholic bishops’ conference Committee for priestly formation, and from 1995-2003 he was chairman of the Archdiocese of Southwark justice and peace coordinating committee.