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"An extraordinary legacy of service": Friends Remember EWTN News President

Andrew Walther speaks at a Knights of Columbus state deputies’ meeting in June 2011.

Catholic and political leaders paid tribute to the late EWTN News president Andrew Walther on Monday and Tuesday. Walther, who died Nov. 1, was remembered as a communications strategist, an advocate for persecuted Christians, a faithful Catholic, and a husband and father.

Walther died on All Saints’ Day, from complications related to leukemia. He had become EWTN News president and chief operating officer earlier this year.

After Walther’s death, EWTN CEO and board chairman Michael Warsaw said that “Andrew Walther’s death is a source of great sadness for all of us at EWTN and for me personally. Although Andrew had only been in his role as President and Chief Operating Officer of EWTN News since June, he had already accomplished so much. He had also been a friend and collaborator for many years before joining the Network. His death is a great loss for all who knew him, for EWTN and for the Church.”

Jeanette DeMelo, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register, also remembered Walther’s work at EWTN News.

“In a year that has thrown us all extraordinary challenges, and in which he personally carried the burden of the illness that would take his life, Andrew remained calm and steady — even joyful — at the helm,” De Melo said.

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“In less than five months with EWTN News his impact was wide, and his leadership will be greatly missed.”

Before he joined EWTN News, Walther was vice president for communications and strategic planning at the Knights of Columbus, where he had begun working in 2005. There he was instrumental in organizing the distribution of millions of dollars in aid to persecuted Christians, especially in Syria and Iraq.

In the Iraqi Christian town of Karamles, the Knights helped Christian genocide survivors resettle and rebuild.

Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic archdiocese of Erbil praised Walther’s work on behalf of Iraqi Christian survivors of the ISIS genocide.

"The persecuted Christians of the world had no greater friend than Andrew,” Archbishop Warda told CNA in a statement. “His knowledge and wisdom guided us in so many ways over these past five years.”

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The White House also issued a statement of condolence for Walther on Monday.

“Our prayers go out to Andrew Walther's loved ones and the entire EWTN family,” Sarah Matthews, White House deputy press secretary, said in a statement to CNA.

“He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of service to the Catholic Church and defending persecuted religious minorities throughout the world. May he rest in peace.”

Advocates for persecuted Christians said Walther’s role in the region was estimable.

Father Benedict Kiely, founder of an organization dedicated to assisting persecuted Christians in the Middle East, recalled that Walther made a concrete difference in difficult and complex situations.

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“His influence in Iraq was astonishing,” said Father Kiely, a priest of the personal ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. “He truly had a passion for the persecuted and used all his considerable skills to raise the issue and provide support.”

Walther played a central role in moving U.S. policy in favor of protecting Christians in the Middle East, said Nina Shea, an expert on religious freedom at the Hudson Institute.

Walther organized a media awareness campaign, and directed a critical fact-finding report to prove that Christians had been targeted by ISIS for genocide in Iraq and Syria.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, director of the Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society at the National Review Institute, praised Walther’s wisdom and prudence in working with both the Church and the U.S. government for the common good.

Praising Walther’s “knowledge and experience and connections,” Lopez added that “honestly no one but God could ever know the extent of his interventions.”

“He was a problem solver, he was always seeing things many steps ahead. He had a wisdom about him that always seemed to me of the Holy Spirit.”

Robert Nicholson is executive director of the Philos Project, which advocates on behalf of Christians in the Near East. Nicholson said that despite Walther’s accomplishments in helping preserve Christianity in the region, he never sought the spotlight.

“Some leaders like to shout their achievements from the housetops, but that wasn’t Andrew,” Nicholson told CNA in a statement. “He was the guy working behind the scenes to build coalitions, catalyze other leaders, and find practical means for pursuing lofty ends.”

Catholic leaders agreed that Walther’s role was critical in helping preserve a Christian presence in the Middle East.

“There is nobody who worked harder and with more hope and perseverance on our behalf,” Archbishop Warda said.

“We may never know how many Christians are living safer, better lives in the Near East today because of this one man,” Nicholson said.

Lopez noted that “if Christianity survives in Iraq and Syria -- the cradle of Christianity -- it will be in no small part because of his efforts.”

The National Catholic Register contributed to this story.