Helmut Huber 1942 – 2017 (PE nr. 1082)

After a long illness, borne patiently and with deep faith, Fr. Helmut Huber died in the hospital of Bad Aibling during the night of the 18th/19th May 2017.

Helmut was born in Amberg. His father was the headmaster of a school, a profession that meant many changes of domicile for the family. At Hahnbach, Helmut lived a carefree childhood with his brothers and sisters in a deeply Christian milieu. He attended the primary school there but in 1952, he returned to Amberg for his secondary school studies. His natural good humour made him a well-liked companion and friend. His teachers held him in high esteem and they dispensed him from the usual oral exams because his written work was so good when he came to sit his Baccalaureate exam. Helmut met the White Fathers when the Society opened a house in Amberg in 1959. However, he kept such contacts a secret from his parents until it was clear to him that he wanted to become a Missionary of Africa.

Helmut began his philosophical studies in Trier in May 1961. His did his novitiate in Hörstel from 1963 to 1964. He had already acquired a good knowledge of English from his secondary school studies but he had no clue of French so he asked to be sent to Totteridge, London for theological studies. The request was granted. He took his missionary oath there on the 27th June 1967. He was ordained priest at Regensberg on the 29th June 1968.

However, Fr. Huber’s first appointment was not to Africa but to Germany. He was asked to become part of a team promoting the missions and missionary vocations in secondary schools in Germany. In order to prepare himself, he spent some time at the promotion house of the White Fathers in Sutton Coldfield in England. He also received permission to go on a fact-finding mission to East Africa where he met Frs. Wolfgang Buth and Ildefons who were working in the Parish of Kamsamba in the Diocese of Mbeya in Tanzania. Naturally, he did not know Swahili, so for the Sunday Mass, he learnt some phrases by heart and was able to say some words to the surprised Christians of the Parish. They were very impressed at this ‘Mzungu’ who knew their language without having lived in Tanzania. However after the Mass when they talked to him in Kiswahili, they observed that the Holy Spirit had abandoned him as he could now only speak English.

Helmut finally arrived in Africa in 1972. He was appointed to the Cathedral Parish of the Diocese of Mbeya in Tanzania. He zealously learnt Kiswahili by buying a paper everyday and reading it from cover to cover. In 1976, he was appointed to the parishes of Mkulwe and Kamsamba in the Rukwa valley. It had a hot and humid climate and malaria attacks were frequent. The two parishes had 50 outstations, which he served with a Canadian confrere. The safaris were often done on bicycle because of the many rivers and the scarcity of bridges. The local people nicknamed him « Fr. Samuel ». He took a great interest in the ways and customs of the different tribes and began to learn their languages. He took many photos illustrating the daily events of the lives of the people. He drew up maps of all the parishes and outstations and he used these to illustrate the talks he gave on the missions when he was back in Germany on home leave.

In 1980, after a medical examination in Dar– es-Salaam, he was advised by the doctor to return to Germany on the next plane. In Amberg, he underwent an urgent operation for a cancerous tumour, which had already destroyed one of his kidneys. The operation and the subsequent convalescence was a great success. Helmut’s great trust in God, his ardent desire to return to Tanzania and his sense of humour helped during this difficult period. No matter that there was a long period of recuperation, he asked for some responsibility in the Province as soon as the cobalt treatment was finished. In October 1981, he took on the responsibility for the community in Munich. It was a difficult time as there was a lot of construction going on. He saw his principal task to be opening the house for mission promotion. He was a gifted artist, his many drawings and caricatures will stamp him in our memory, and his linguistic ability made him popular during meetings with young people.

In 1988, Helmut’s doctors agreed that he could go back to Africa, this time to Nairobi in Kenya. It was big moral boost for Helmut and made him confident that he had defeated the cancer. Moreover, Nairobi had excellent medical facilities.

Fr. Huber was appointed to a slum parish in the East of Nairobi. Fr. Arnold Grol, a Dutch White Father has founded the Undugu project, which tried to look after the street children in the poorest parts of the city. Multi purpose halls were used as school rooms in the affected districts and centres were set up where children could eat and sleep. A training centre was installed to give instruction in carpentry and metalwork and most important of all, a mechanical workshop, which gave the street children some hope for a better future rather than running around the streets all day trying to collect salvageable rubbish. Helmut gave himself wholeheartedly to this work, which was called Kwetu. This activity totally suited his personality and his interest in giving these young people some sort of security and hope for the future in their young lives.

Helmut left Kenya in 2000 to take up a new appointment on the island of Pemba, off the coast of East Africa. First of all, he spent some months in the Benaco refugee camp in Tanzania where about 100,000 refugees from Burundi had sought refuge. In January 2001, the new community of four White Fathers made the sea crossing from Dar-es-Salaam to Zanzibar, a voyage of about 50 kms. A few days later, they arrived in Pemba. Their aim was to create relationships with the Muslim population, training young people and adults and giving language courses. All this was neutral territory, which did not touch on religion. Personal contacts could be established. Pastoral work was more problematical. Christians formed only 0.01% of the population and they were scattered all over the island.

Following his annual medical check-up in 2004, the doctors discovered that Helmut had developed skin cancer. Because of this, he returned, to Germany in 2005. He became an esteemed member of the Munich community. In 2012, still ready to undergo new experiences, he responded to an appeal from the Irish sector, which was looking for confreres to help them out in our house in Dublin. In 2014, he responded to the same appeal from the community in Jerusalem in order to look after the pilgrims coming to visit St. Anne. He did all this joyfully and enthusiastically.

At the beginning of 2015, Helmut suffered a stroke and his health began to deteriorate markedly. In November 2016, he was hospitalised as doctors tried to verify the causes of high levels of water on his brain. They tried to reduce the pressure by an operation carried out in the beginning of February 2017. There were complications and this was the beginning of the end for Fr. Huber. He caught pneumonia and was put into an artificial coma. He underwent some neurological rehabilitation at Bad Feilnbach but this was interrupted by hospitalisation at Bad Aiblin. Other infections followed and Helmut’s weakened body could put up no more resistance. It was really a blessed release when he died at the Bad Aiblin hospital during the night of the 18th/19th May 2017 in the house where he had proclaimed the Good News all his life.

Günther Zahn, M.Afr.

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