INTERNATIONAL: Farewell to the fearless Good Samaritan

Image: Father Andrzej Halemba (Credit: Aid to the Church in Need)
Image: Father Andrzej Halemba (Credit: Aid to the Church in Need)

A priest, who is retiring from a leading Catholic charity after 14 years risking his life to bring aid to the Church in need, has been named a modern-day Good Samaritan by Iraq’s most senior Christian leader.

Monsignor Andrzej Halemba served as Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) projects coordinator for Asia-Africa, covering hot spots including Syria, Iraq and Eritrea – countries across the Middle East and parts of South Asia.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Cardinal Raphael I Sako of Baghdad honoured the 65-year-old Pole with the title Chorbishop, equivalent to monsignor in the Western (Latin) Church.

Describing the monsignor as “the Good Samaritan of today”, Patriarch Sako said Mgr Halemba “was always present with us, building housing caravans for the displaced, polyclinics and schools and everything.”

Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive President of ACN (International), said that he “has repeatedly put his life on the line, going to places of acute danger in the service of the suffering Church.

“His faith, his courage, his organisational ability, his good humour, his language skills and his professionalism – these qualities and many more he has harnessed for the good of persecuted faithful. When they needed somebody for them, he came to their aid.”

Mgr Halemba’s ministry had been largely confined to Europe and Africa until 2010 when ACN appointed him to lead the charity’s project outreach to the Middle East at a time of unprecedented upheaval in the run-up to the Arab Spring.

Travelling repeatedly into Syria and Iraq during the height of the Daesh (ISIS) invasion, the monsignor significantly up-scaled the charity’s work, providing emergency relief as well as pastoral aid for hundreds of thousands of people, especially Christians.

His task was to enable persecuted Christians to find refuge and in due course enable – where possible – their return home once occupying Islamist forces had been forced into retreat.

The monsignor’s aid programmes are credited with slowing the exodus of faithful, in a region where Christianity has been threatened with extinction.

Mgr Halemba worked to bring closer cooperation between the many different Catholic and Orthodox Church communities and was frequently commended for his emphasis on ecumenism.

ACN (UK) Head of Press and Information John Pontifex, who travelled with him extensively in the Middle East and Pakistan, said: “In every respect, Mgr Halemba has made a huge impact – his capacity for work is matched only by his unfailing compassion for those he serves.”

Mgr Halemba, who stressed that he was always inspired by Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of ACN, said: “What always needs to be stressed is the spiritual character of ACN as we can never become a secular, humanitarian agency.

“Instead, we are a Catholic charity, helping people to live the life of Christ – we enable people to respond to the needs and suffering of humanity and above all we are there to dress the wounds of the bleeding Church and dry the tears of the God who weeps.”

Last year, the President of Poland awarded the Polish priest with the golden cross of merit.

For his work helping refugee Christians fleeing from Syria to Lebanon, in 2015 Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Issam John Darwish of Zahle and Furzol in eastern Lebanon, named Mgr Halemba an Archimandrite, an honorific title.

In his first four years with ACN, starting in 2006, Mgr Halemba was projects coordinator for English and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, drawing on more than 12 years as a missionary in Zambia.