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OBITUARY – BR RAPHAEL SSF

Brother Raphael photoRaphael SSF

From the sermon preached at his funeral by Giles SSF

Brother Raphael SSF was born Ramon Lewis Parker on May 9th 1936. After his schooling and National Service in the Royal Air Force he went to Kelham Theological College, near Newark, Notts, in 1956. In 1961 he was ordained Deacon in the Diocese of Manchester to serve as a curate in the Parish of St Augustine’s, Tonge Moor. He was ordained Priest in 1962. In 1964 he moved to London and was curate at the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell. In 1965 he became Vicar of St Hilda’s Church, Prestwich, in Manchester Diocese until 1971 when he joined the Society of Saint Francis.

From Romans 8, verse 15:

‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?’

Today we have come together to give thanks to God for the life and ministry of our Brother Raphael, to lay his body in the ground and to commend his soul to God’s keeping. The Christian faith is about being loved by God, our gracious and compassionate Lord, and living, in his strength, eternal life. From birth to death we are surrounded by God’s love, and in dying we are born to new and everlasting life. As we heard in the gospel reading from St John ‘This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day’.

Verses from Psalm 23:

‘The Lord is my shepherd therefore can I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.’

Raphael was a faithful and devoted disciple of Christ who from his youth determined to serve the Lord. He was ordained in 1961 in the Diocese of Manchester and eventually after ten years’ experience as a curate and parish priest, he joined the Society of Saint Francis. As a brother he developed a reputation as an evangelist and preacher, doing a remarkable ministry as a missioner, retreat conductor and pastor. An important part of his ministry was the time from 1981 to 1986 when he was Chaplain of the University of Wales at Lampeter.

Psalm 23:

He shall refresh my soul and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’

Many people still remember with great affection his ministry to them, bringing to them the love of Christ, healing and friendship. One friend wrote to me, ‘Each time he came to see me, usually at Christmas time, he always made me feel joy and relaxed. He only came for a chat and a mince pie, but he exuded the spirit of kindness and peace.’ Another person wrote, ‘I will always treasure some nice memories of him….   Raphael never forgot my birthday. I always looked forward to his handmade cards. His interesting conversations and the odd joke and his kindness will stay with me.’

Somewhere in his training as a priest Raphael had picked up the habit of making meticulous notes about the people he met and ministered to and this included finding out the birth date of the person concerned. He continued in faithful intercessory prayer for all these people, represented by his sending out these handmade birthday cards every year until his illness prevented him from doing so. I am sure that Raphael is praying for us as we pray for him.

Psalm 23:

‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’

It is important for us to recall the good and creative ministry of Raphael. It reminds us of the person he used to be, of the priest and pastor that he was. All Christians are asked by God to be faithful disciples and this discipleship will involve suffering. As Luke tells us: Jesus said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ The cross Raphael was called upon to carry was the dementia that afflicted him for the last twenty years of his life. As the dementia developed the good, caring, loving parts of his character and personality became submerged in the anxious, restless and occasionally unsuitable behaviour, which became characteristic of his illness. It is a great sadness to witness such deterioration in a person, especially in someone so well-known and loved.

Psalm 23:

‘You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil and my cup shall be full. Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’

Raphael’s last years at Chestnut House were a great blessing for him, for his friends and relations and for us, his Brothers. Goodness and loving kindness did follow him through those years as he was so kindly and lovingly cared for by all the staff at Chestnut House. He was surrounded by Christian compassion and love, respected for who he was, a priest and a Brother. He was loved because he was a loving, kindly, caring person himself and, despite his illness, this was understood and known by those who cared for him. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to those who cared for him in these last years. From John’s Gospel: Jesus came and stood among the disciples and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ May Raphael rest in peace and rise in glory. F

Brother Raphael SSF died on 11 September, 2014, and his funeral Mass was held at Hilfield Friary. He was aged 78 years and in the forty-first year of his profession in vows.