The Seychelles islands woke up Friday to the news that the island nation’s first Anglican priest and bishop, Archbishop Emeritus French Chang Him, had passed away. Chang Him was 85 years old.
The beloved bishop was hospitalised a fortnight ago and underwent emergency surgery last weekend. Last Sunday, Archbishop James Wong of the Anglican Diocese Seychelles – 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean – held a prayer service at the St Paul’s Cathedral where people from all walks of life prayed for the health of Chang Him. French Chang Him is survived by his twin daughters, Michelle and Frances, and three grandchildren.
On June 9, Chang Him would have celebrated 60 years of service and devotion to the Anglican Diocese of Seychelles and the province of the Indian Ocean.
French Chang-Him was ordained to the priesthood in June 1963, following theological studies at Lichfield Theological College in the United Kingdom. Over the years, he pursued other studies, which included Post Ordination Studies at St Augustine’s College in Canterbury, England, and at Trinity College at the Toronto University of Canada.
Over the years, Chang Him served in parishes all over the main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue as well as for the Anglican community on Cousine and for the leper settlement on Curieuse Island.
Bishop French also served as the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Seychelles from 1979 until his retirement in 2004. He was consecrated by Bishop George Briggs, his predecessor, and Bishop Trevor Huddlestone, assisted by three other bishops from Madagascar.
He was, in 1984, given the position of Archbishop of the Indian Ocean. Archbishop Chang Him was conferred the title of Archbishop Emeritus by the Indian Ocean Province of the Anglican Church in 2014.
Until his passing Archbishop Emeritus French Chang Him was still active in pastoral duties and was based at the St John’s Parish in the northern district of Glacis.
Aside from his church duties Chang Him was also very active in civil societies; he was a founding member of the Cancer Concern Association – a cause close to his heart as he had lost his beloved wife Suzy to cancer and was himself a cancer patient. He was the longest serving member of the Archbishop Makarios Foundation, which awards bursaries to children in need, which he kept alive and most recently saw the donation of bursaries on May 5, when he gave his last interview to the press.
Archbishop Emeritus French Chang Him also played a key role in setting up the Seychelles Inter-Faith Council (SIFCO), which he saw as the spiritual voice of Seychelles, linking both Christian and non-Christian religions. A key function of the council was to offer spiritual guidance and interact with both government and NGOs for both material and spiritual progress in a fast-changing world.
Archbishop Chang Him (right) receiving the insignia of the OBE from British High Commissioner Lindsay Skoll at the time in the presence of daughter Frances and grand-daughter Shannon in early December 2014. (Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
In December 2014, Archbishop Chang-Him was designated an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. This was for his services to reconciliation, human rights, charity, and democratic values and his invaluable service to British nationals in Seychelles, past and present.
President Ramkalawan’s condolences
Seychelles’ President Wavel Ramkalawan has sent a message of deepest condolences on behalf of the government, the people of Seychelles and on his personal behalf, to his daughters, Frances and Michelle, the grandchildren, the family and the Anglican community.
“Seychelles is in deep mourning following the passing of Archbishop Emeritus, French Chang-Him. The country has lost a precious child, a man of deep faith, an obedient servant and a devoted father and grandfather. His departure leaves a void in the Anglican church, in our community and around the world,” said Ramkalawan.
The President said that “As a man who believed in justice, Bishop French stood against any form of tyranny. He expressed himself openly against the abuse of human rights and was often the sole voice of the voiceless during the one-party years. He would give support to those whose loved ones were detained or whose children had disappeared, all while mourning the brutal death of his dear brother, Davidson Chang-Him, who was murdered on 5th June 1977. He paid the consequences for standing up in many ways.”
President Ramkalawan, who is also an Anglican priest, and spent much time with Archbishop French throughout the course of his life, expressed that “His soft voice and gentle touch will be missed by everyone. He fought the good fight and was faithful to the end. May he be blessed with the gift of eternity as he is welcomed by the Saviour he served. May his soul rest in peace and rise in glory.”