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Chaplain Joseph Parker lost son in Bloody Friday bomb and dedicated life to peace


Devoted: Rev Joseph Parker
Devoted: Rev Joseph Parker

By Alf McCreary

A cleric who dedicated his life to peace-building after his teenage son was killed in the Bloody Friday bomb blitz has died.

The Reverend Joseph Parker passed away in Canada on Saturday. He was 89.

His 14-year-old son Stephen was one of nine people killed during the Provisional IRA attack in 1972.

Rev Parker, who was the then Chaplain to the Missions to Seamen in Belfast, and his family suffered greatly from Stephen's death, but in the aftermath of that terrible event, Mr Parker dedicated himself to working tirelessly for peace and reconciliation.

In doing so he touched the hearts of many people on all sides, who sympathised greatly with the work and witness of this man.

Rev Parker was instrumental in founding the group known as Witness for Peace in 1975. In the same year he emigrated with his family to western Canada, where he founded the Missions to Seamen in Vancouver, British Columbia.

He worked there until his retirement in 1993, but continued to take services and to minister in Penticton, several hours drive from Vancouver.

The Bloody Friday bombing was one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.

On July 21, 1972, 22 Provisional IRA bombs exploded within a mile radius of Belfast city centre, and all within 75 minutes.

As well as the nine people who died in various parts of the city, another 130 were injured in the explosions, some of them very badly.

There were gruesome scenes at Oxford Street bus station, where firemen and rescue workers were tending to the scattered remains of the four civilians and two soldiers who had died.

Three other people died at a shopping complex on the Cavehill Road, including Stephen Parker, who had been trying to warn people away from the area.

His brother Roger, then 16 and now a Church of England rector in Burnley, Lancashire, said yesterday: "I remember my father telling me of the trauma of having to identify Stephen only by the remains of his hand, his belt and a box of boys 'trick matches' in his pocket.

"My father then had to come to tell me. I was with friends at Glengormley.

"It was all horrible."

Rev Parker sustained a virtual one-man campaign for peace, which included a one-night vigil outside Belfast City Hall.

Rev Roger Parker said that after his father established Witness for Peace, he felt that his work in Northern Ireland was done and it was time to move on.

"He had a fruitful ministry in Vancouver with the Missions to Seamen, and I think that somehow he had come to terms with the tragedy of the past.

He believed that after that darkness, "he was enabled to do so much good in Canada", he said.

Joe Parker visited Northern Ireland much later on. Roger said: "He was very happy that the Good Friday Agreement had come about and that leaders like the Reverend Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness were able to work together.

"My father felt that the seeds of these better relationships had been sown many years earlier and by a wide range of people, including those who helped to form and support the work of Witness for Peace."

Parker is survived by his wife Dorothy, his son Roger and his wife Hazel, his daughter Karen and her husband Tony, his grandchildren Andrew and Heather, his brother Lovell, and by his many nephews and nieces in Canada and Ireland.

He was predeceased by brother Harry and sister Elsie.

His ashes will be interred in due course in Roselawn Cemetery beside his son, Stephen.

A funeral service will be held at St Saviour's Anglican Church in Penticton on Monday.

Alf McCreary

Belfast Telegraph

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