Seychelles' Archbishop Emeritus French Chang-Him laid to rest
Seychelles bid farewell to its beloved Archbishop Emeritus French Chang-Him in a state funeral held at the Anglican St Paul's Cathedral. (Seychelles Nation)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Exactly 60 years after becoming the first Seychellois Anglican priest on June 9, 1963, Seychelles bid farewell to its beloved Archbishop Emeritus French Chang-Him in a state funeral held at the Anglican St Paul's Cathedral in the capital city of Victoria on Friday, and was later laid to rest at the St Luc Cemetery, Bel Ombre.
Friday was declared a day of national mourning in the island nation, with flags flying at half-mast as a sign of respect for a man who has been described as a true servant of God and an exemplary human being.
Chang-Him, 85, passed away on May 26 at the Seychelles Hospital, where he was receiving treatment after emergency surgery.
Hundreds of mourners, including his family, parishioners, friends, Seychelles' President Wavel Ramkalawan, who is also an Anglican priest, as well as former President Danny Faure, government officials, the diplomatic corps, and members of the Seychelles Interfaith Council of Seychelles (SIFCO), among others, gathered to pray and say their goodbyes.
|Friday was declared a day of national mourning in the island nation, with flags flying at half-mast. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY|
The funeral service was followed with prayers read by Ramkalawan, in his capacity as the Reverend Canon, while the procession made its way to the front of the altar. The archdeacon, reverends, members of the clergy, Archbishop James Wong of Seychelles and the Province of the Indian Ocean, and other members of the Anglican church took turns conducting the service, which lasted for about two hours.
Archbishop Wong offered thanksgiving to God "for the ministry of Archbishop Emeritus French Chang-Him in the Church, in the Seychelles, in the Province of the Indian Ocean, in the Anglican Communion. And whether he ministered to your people, we bless and thank you for his love for you and for your people."
|Archbishop French Chang-Him (Anglican Diocese of Seychelles) Photo License: CC-BY|
He added, "We thank you for his faithfulness and how he preached your words and administered your sacrament during the 60 years of his ministry. We bless you for how he remained faithful and loyal to his ordination vows fulfilling his duties of ministry, serving your people, building up your church, and glorifying your Holy name. We also give thanks for all his family for the love and support to his ministry who have made a significant offering to the mission of your Holy Church as they have shared their love. Continue to shower them with your love and blessings."
Reading the combined eulogy of many mourners, Bernard Georges, the secretary of the board of church commissioners, asked "where do I begin to tell the story of French Chang-Him?"
"There is so much to say and there is so little time. He loved everybody and everybody loved him in return – it was impossible not to love the man. Although he attained the pinnacle of the Anglican hierarchy, his feet remained firmly rooted in the earth. His was not false modesty - it was a humility born out of adversities, sufferings, and challenges," said Georges.
|Hundreds of mourners, including his family, parishioners, friends, and high level officials gathered to pray and say their goodbyes. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY|
With the aim of setting down eulogies written by other people permanently, a booklet bearing the many eulogies will be compiled and printed into a booklet to be made available at a later date.
In his testimony, Bishop Alain Harel of the Roman Catholic Diocese outlined that "Bishop was an exceptional citizen, a role model and pillar of the society of Seychelles."
"I hope that this son of Seychelles will always be an example and reference in the way we continue to build togetherness in Seychelles," said Harel.
A well-lived life
Born on May 10, 1938, to a father of Chinese origin -- Francis Chang-Him – and a Seychellois mother – Amelia Zoe. Chang Him was the 6th of 10 children. He is survived by two sisters, one older and one younger than him.
The First Lady, a loving niece
First Lady Linda Ramkalawan, the niece of Archbishop French, told SNA that the Archbishop spent his childhood in Victoria. The First Lady has fond memories of "Ton Kitch" – as he was affectionately referred to as Bishop French's second name was Kitchener.
"I remember him driving his Mini Moke, choir practice at St Luke's, and having travel sickness after taking the lorry to and from Anse Royale," said the First Lady, recounting how, later in life, Chang-Him would reach out to people on New Year who were living alone.
It was at the age of 15, while in St. Luke's Church at Bel Ombre on the main island of Mahe, that Chang Him felt a call to do something special for the Lord. But it was only after finishing college in 1958 that he decided to respond seriously to this call.
|Archbishop Wong offered a thank you for Chang-Him's faithfulness and how he preached the words of God. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY|
Responding to the call from God
After teaching for a year at Saint Paul's School, he went to study at Lichfield Theological College, near Birmingham, Great Britain, where after three years he was ordained a deacon and served there for a year, before returning to the Seychelles, where he was ordained a priest in 1963, at Saint Paul's Cathedral.
In 1974, after working in several parishes, Chang-Him pursued his studies in Toronto, Canada. Back on the islands, he married Suzy Talma, a dental therapist who had recently returned from studying in New Zealand. Together they had twin daughters: Frances and Michelle. In May 1996, after 20 years of marriage, Chang Him lost his wife to cancer.
He was consecrated the first Anglican Bishop of Port Victoria in 1979, a post he held until 2004 when he resigned. Bishop French also served as the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean in 1984, resigning in 2005.
Messages of condolences
Amongst the first to react, following the passing of Bishop Chang-Him, was the President of Seychelles – 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean - Wavel Ramkalawan.
"I was ordained by Bishop French 39 years ago, and I have always worked closely with him and my marriage with his niece brings us that much closer because of the familial link. We do not have any doubt that he is now resting in peace with the Almighty that he proclaimed. We will miss his guidance, his message of encouragement, his devotion and his service towards everyone," said the head of state.
"His special voice carried his words in an extraordinary manner that one can still hear him talk. That was and is the power of this great son of our motherland. May he rest in eternal peace," said former President Danny Faure in a message sent to the family and members of the Anglican Diocese.
The leader of the United Seychelles Party also sent a message of condolences. Patrick Herminie said: "Coming from such humble beginnings, he showed no glory for the position he held as the Archbishop Emeritus and remained humble throughout his life at the service of the church. He dedicated his ministry to serve God and the people of Seychelles with fulfillment and passion."
"Archbishop French Chang-Him was one of the greatest, most noble, and kindest souls of our society; a Christian soul who touched the hearts of many, who took their suffering on his shoulders and gave comfort and kindness to all. He will remain in our hearts forever known as one who had a deep sense of justice and a great unifier and the Judiciary together with the legal community of Seychelles express its deepest condolences to his family and loved ones," said Chief Justice Rony Govinden.
Govinden was speaking in his capacity as chairperson of the Archbishop Makarios Foundation of Seychelles — a foundation that aids schoolchildren with bursaries, where Archbishop Emeritus French Chang-Him was the longest-serving member of the organisation's board.
In his work with civil society, Chang-Him was a dedicated member of the Cancer Concern Association. In an interview on the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) Television, fellow founding member Josie Michaud-Payet recounted how the discussion to start the association started with Chang-Him at the St. John Parish at Glacis.
Cancer Concern was set up as a support group as it was evident back then that people needed the support. "He understood, through his experience of losing his wife to cancer, he understood the suffering of both patients and families," said Michaud-Payet.
Closer to home Chang-Him is remembered as an avid football fan, who would watch games up to 1 o'clock in the morning and still get up at 5 am to celebrate mass. Another passion was cooking where he would let his creativity run wild and where he would create many dishes, his favourites made from seafood.
Lasting memory of a much-loved man
The passing of the Archbishop will only mean that he will not be seen physically walking around brusquely in Victoria, stopping here and there for a chat or giving a blessing but his devotion and dedication of more than half a century to the Anglican diocese, not only in Seychelles but of the Indian Ocean region as well will be remembered. The island nation will not forget his contributions as well to non-governmental organisations.
His portrait, forever posed as a stained-glass piece, will be seen by all those who are in Victoria, embellished and part of the architecture of St Paul's Cathedral, which he consecrated as the Archbishop of the Anglican Diocese and Province of the Indian Ocean in 2004.