Msgr. Andrzej Halemba: farewell to a fearless ‘Good Samaritan of today’

A PRIEST who is retiring from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) 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 ACN projects coordinator for Asia-Africa, covering hot spots including Syria, Iraq and Eritrea—countries across the Middle East and parts of South Asia.

Msgr. Halemba in Aleppo, Syria (2017)

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 Father Halemba “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 organizational ability, his good humor, 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 organization’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 ISIS invasion, the newly-minted monsignor significantly up-scaled ACN’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 ever and whenever possible—their return home once occupying Islamist forces had been forced into retreat. The monsignor’s aid programs are credited with slowing the exodus of faithful, in a region where Christianity has been threatened with extinction. He also worked to bring closer cooperation between the many different Catholic and Orthodox Church communities and was frequently commended for his emphasis on ecumenism.

Msgr. Halemba 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.”

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, where he set up medical and education structures and produced the first New Testament in the local Bantu language as well as a dictionary, which remains the most comprehensive of its kind. Last year, the President of Poland awarded the Polish priest the Cross of Merit.

—John Pontifex