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N.O. loses another fearless anti-violence crusader

1st July 2013   ·   0 Comments

On the same day that a caravan carried the remains of the Rev. Zebadee Bridges, a giant among civil rights ministers, to Summit, Miss., for burial, New Orleans lost another fearless warrior in the struggle to end the scourge of poverty, drug-trafficking and gun violence that threaten the future of the Black community. The Rev. John C. Raphael Jr., pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, succumbed to cancer on Tuesday morning, June 25. He was 60.

Like the Rev. Zebadee Bridges, Raphael was committed to meeting the needs of the community as well as his congregation and was not afraid to walk the streets of Central City after the sun went down to address community issues like drugs, crime and violence.

REV. JOHN RAPHAEL

REV. JOHN RAPHAEL

“He was such a charismatic person, he had a way of befriending people and making them come to him. He was believable because he was real,” Catherine Raphael, Rev. Raphael’s widow, told FOX 8 News Tuesday. widow of Pastor Raphael.

FOX 8 News reported Tuesday that during a Dec. 2008 anti-violence rally, Rev. Raphael talked about his faith and how his calling as a minister compelled him to reach out to those who most needed help on the streets of New Orleans.

“So many have given up on themselves and I want them to know I have not given up on them and really God has not,” Rev. Raphael said.

Rev. Raphael, the son of a police officer and a 14-year veteran of the NOPD, ministered to the faithful at the New Hope Baptist Church in Central City and as a tireless activist who worked relentlessly in a community caught in the grips of poverty, drugs, hopelessness, despair and violence.

After attending Loyola Univer­sity and Southern University, Raphael earned a bachelor degree in theology from Union Baptist Theological Seminary. He also was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Christian Bible College of New Orleans.

It was his faith and his commitment to effecting positive change in New Orleans that compelled Rev. Raphael to camp out on the neutral ground near the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial statue at the intersection of Claiborne Ave. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., as well as commit to fasting each year from the day after Christmas until New Year’s Eve.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Rev. John C. Raphael, Jr.,” Congress­man Cedric Richmond, D-La. said Wednesday. “They, the parishioners of New Hope Baptist Church, and all the citizens of New Orleans have lost a truly special man who dedicated his life to improving the community. Rev. Raphael was keenly aware of the awful toll of violence and was committed to doing everything he could to bring about peace on our streets. The work he did throughout his life — as a community leader, a 15-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department, and pastor of New Hope Baptist Church — stands as a testament to his dedication. Those who interfaced with any of his programs, including Yes We Care or the Faith Responders, know firsthand the difference he made in the lives of those he touched. While he did not live to see his dream of a city without violence realized, his efforts brought us closer to that dream. His impact will continue to be felt and he will be deeply missed by all of us who share his goal of a peaceful community.”

“[M]y heart is heavy as the City of New Orleans mourns the death of Pastor John C. Raphael, Jr. of New Hope Baptist Church,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a press release Tuesday. “I have personally relied on the wisdom and counsel of Pastor Raphael over the years, not just because of what he said, but because of how he lived. Pastor Raphael will be dearly missed.

“Whether he was preaching on the corner, fasting for days on MLK, mentoring young people, or challenging us all to do more to end the death and violence on our streets, Pastor Raphael was consistent and responsible in challenging us all to do our part to reflect the love of God and improve our city,” Landrieu added. “May our thoughts and prayers be with the Raphael and New Hope families.”

The congregation of New Hope Baptist Church and family members gathered inside the house of worship Tuesday afternoon to lend support and encouragement to one another. Among them was the activist minister’s widow, Mrs. Catherine Raphael, who displayed the kind of grace, strength and courage her husband had become legendary for.

Never one to let someone else carry the mantle of leadership and responsibility, Rev. Raphael used his trademark “Thou Shalt Not Kill” signs posted around the city to raise public awareness of the toll violence has taken on New Orleans as well as night vigils and overnight camp-outs on the Claiborne Avenue neutral ground to draw attention to the issue. Rev. Raphael earned a reputation as a principled and fearless man of God who was willing to do whatever was necessary to save lives and help those in trouble.

His widow told FOX 8 News last week that she often found herself praying for her husband’s safety while carrying out his divine mission on the streets of New Orleans.

“Actually I was thinking, ‘Lord, please do not let anybody kill this man out here on this neutral ground, sleeping, and I was fearful for him,” Catherine Raphael told FOX 8 News Tuesday.

Rev. Raphael’s humanitarian activities extending far beyond New Orleans, bringing him across the Atlantic Ocean to bring aid to impoverished communities in the Caribbean and West Africa. In addition to building an orphanage in Haiti, Rev. Raphael helped to build a polytechnical college and a hospital in the West African nation of Ghana, according to his sister Aurora Carter.

“His passion for people fueled his compassion for people,” Aurora Carter told nola.com. “He truly loved the Lord and he wanted everybody to know that they could also love the Lord and be blessed.”

“He just had a big impact on everyone, on kids, on me, for sure because I learned from Pastor Raphael, how to love and how to care,” Germaine Steib, one of the musicians at the church who enjoyed Rev. Raphael’s powerful sermons, told FOX 8 News.

Others in the community flocked to the church upon hearing news of Rev. Raphael’s passing..

“There are a lot of people that died in this community without the finances to even bury them. He brought them to this church, did everything to give them a very good send-off,” the Rev. Matthew George, pastor of Berean Presbyterian Church, told FOX 8 News.

Fellow pastors expressed their love for and admiration of Rev. Raphael last week.

“John, and I say John affectionately, John and I grew up together. His grandfather, who was a pastor, and my father was a pastor, [they] were very close friends,” said the Rev. C.S. Gordon, pastor of the historic New Zion Baptist Church, told FOX 8 News.

Rev. Gordon said Raphael was effective in all arenas. “John had passion in the pulpit as well as outside of the pulpit. He could relate to those in the church and those outside of the church,” he said..

Rev. Raphael’s loved ones and members of his congregation said last week that they will continue to do what they can to carry on the work that the minister has quietly done without fanfare or hoopla for years.

“Yes, yes, there’s no reason not to because it’s such great work, and it’s the work of the church…We’ll go on because he would want us to, this is what he would expect of us and after 30 years of walking beside him I’ll have to go on,” Catherine. Raphael said Tuesday

“The enormity of his loss impacts all of us who are very passionate about disadvantaged families and children throughout New Orleans,” the Rev. Tom Watson, senior pastor of Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries, told The Louisiana Weekly Wednesday. “His transitioning from us suggests that we have to be very prayerful about the next generation of leaders who will hopefully be trained the way he was trained — first to be a public servant and then all of a sudden he becomes a giant of a figure in terms of not only public but spiritual leadership.

“His loss is one of immense vacancy, if you will, because it’s a tough void to fill when you have a pastor who understands that his assignment is beyond Sunday morning preaching and Sunday morning celebration,” Watson continued. “He is one that walked the walk, talked the talk and operated in the assignment that God gave him. We will be forever grateful for guys like him who took on an assignment, particularly as it relates to violence in our community, and did everything he could do within his power, strength and limitations to ensure that not only his immediate area would be confronted and dealt with in terms of the issues of crime and violence. But he was a true citywide and global leader based on the mission work he did throughout New Orleans and on the continent of Africa.

“It’s one of those losses that make it very difficult to think about who fills that void,” Watson told The Louisiana Weekly. “I know God will give that congregation the kind of replacement that’s necessary but I would say that it’s going to be tough to find another John Raphael.”

A funeral will be held on Tuesday, July 2, at New Hope Baptist Church, 1807 LaSalle St., 7:00 p.m., preceded by visitation from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. A second funeral, with a public viewing from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., will take place on Wednesday, July 3, at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for Performing Arts.

He will be buried in Providence Memorial Park, 8200 Airline Drive, Metairie, La.

Heritage Funeral Directors is handing the arrangements.

The Rev. John C. Raphael Jr. is survived by his wife, Catherine Raphael; a son, John C. Raphael III of New Orleans; a stepson, Theron Glover of New Orleans; five sisters, Aurora Carter, Keely Bowen and Janna Raphael, all of New Orleans, Sharon Cole of Sterling, Va., and Miriam Montgomery of Montgomery, Al; a grandchild and a host of relatives.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the July 1, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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