Ordination ends diocese's long wait for a leader, reports Simon Caldwell THE LONG wait of Catholics in East Anglia for a new bishop has finally come to an end.
Bishop Michael Evans was ordained in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Norwich, by Cardinal Corrnac MurphyO'Connor, ending a 15-month interregnum that began when the last Bishop of East Anglia, Archbishop Peter Smith, was elevated to the See of Cardiff.
The event, on the eve of the outbreak of war in Iraq last week, was attended by most of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, along with Archbishop Pablo Puente, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, who broke with protocol to leave London at a time of conflict.
Addressing the congregation, Archbishop Puente said: "I am very happy to be here with you in Norwich and to bring you best wishes and greetings from the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, on the occasion of the episcopal ordination of the Right Reverend Michael Evans as the new Bishop of East Anglia.
"His Holiness knows about the great celebration in the diocese and feels united in joy with you. At this most important moment of your diocesan life he blesses you with a gesture of special paternity and guiding friendship — all of you, your families, friends, your work, your marriages, your hopes and your Christian ideas.
"We are in a moment when a terrible war is about to begin. As Apostolic Nuncio I should have remained in London today but I consider this ordination of Bishop Evans in your diocese as a very important occasion and I happen to represent the Holy Father.
"I am sure that if he were in England, the Holy Father would be here today with You, I am with you in his name."
In his homily, Cardinal MurphyO'Connor said the ordination marked a "day of joy" tor the diocese.
He said: "My dear people, you have once more at your helm a very good man. You probably expect me to say that but want to repeat it. As teacher, as parish priest, as ecumenist, as pastor, Bishop Michael is very well equipped for the office of bishop." The congregation also heard Anglican Bishop Graham James of Norwich welcome Bishop Evans to the diocese.
"What you will discover, Bishop Michael, in your new diocese, are warm ecumenical relations and good friendships between all the Church leaders," he said. "With your ecumenical pedigree, we are delighted that the Holy Father and the Holy Spirit alighted on you ... we can assure you that our friendship will be a friendship in Jesus Christ and will do all that he commands us, that we will love one another as he loves us. We welcome you."
Bishop Evans, 51, addressed the congregation himself at the end of the Mass. "If I am honest, I never ever really thought I would be standing here as a bishop one day," he said.
He then thanked God, the Pope and Archbishop Michael Bowen, his former ordinary, as well as his family, his former "parish family" of St Augustine's, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where he was parish priest from 1995, and his "new family" of the Diocese of East Anglia.
After the Mass, priests presented their new bishop with a Leeds United Football Club shirt, signed by the players, in the knowledge that he was a keen supporter.
Bishop Evans, who was born in South London and ordained for the Archdiocese of Southwark in 1975, also has a strong practical interest in ecumenism, inter-faith dialogue and youth work.
He has been a member of the British Methodist/Roman Catholic Committee since 1991, and in 1997 he was appointed by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity as one of eight Catholic members of the International Joint Commission for Dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church.
His episcopal ordination was attended by his friend, Brother Emile of the Taiz6 community, an ecumenical monastic community based in France.
Among the major challenges faced by Bishop Evans is the need to attract vocations in a diocese which currently does not have a single candidate for the priesthood.
He announced some of his intentions in his first pastoral letter read out in parishes in the diocese last Sunday. "Firstly, I intend to be a teaching bishop, perhaps giving talks in deaneries, parishes and schools," he said.
"Secondly, I hope to work closely with other church leaders. We need to work together with our fellow Christians, and to find new ways to proclaim the Gospel together.
"Thirdly, our diocese must be ever more deeply committed to working for justice and peace in God's world. We must play our part in overturning any form of oppression or abuse, poverty or deprivation, whether here at home or overseas.
"Fourthly, the young people of our diocese will be central to my ministry. I want to find ways to spend time with you, to draw strength from your youthful energy and enthusiasm. You are vital to our Church family here and now.
"Lastly, a key role of any bishop is the care and support of his priests and deacons. I hope to be a friend and shepherd for them, as they are friends and shepherds for you."
Bishop Evans said: "On the day my appointment was announced, we were told that parts of our diocese were among the most godless in England.
"1 doubt that is true, but we are challenged to do all we can to help our fellow East Anglians to discover the God who already shares their lives, and the Risen Christ who walks invisibly by their side.
"This is by far the most important task that lies ahead of us all, lay people, religious communities, deacons, priests and bishop together. I ask you to join me in committing ourselves to making this our first priority, the heart of our call from Christ joyfully to serve our world in his name."
He added: "Please keep in your prayers all the members of our armed forces and their families. But remember also the people of Iraq. They are not our enemies, and their present plight and their future are very much our care and concern. Please pray for a speedy and just end to the conflict, so that God's peace may come to a people who have suffered so much for so long."