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History

Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need, in the Holy Land. Photo: Aid to the Church in Need

Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need, in the Holy Land

For more than 65 years, Aid to the Church in Need has reached out to the persecuted, the suffering and the poorest of the poor around the world.

This page tells the story of our charity from its foundation up to its worldwide mission today.

The early days of Aid to the Church in Need

Aid to the Church in Need came into being in 1947 when a young Norbertine priest, Father Werenfried van Straaten – whose name means “Warrior for Peace” – responded to an appeal for reconciliation made by Pope Pius XII in the bitter early years after World War II. He set out to organise emergency relief to meet the material and spiritual needs of the suffering German people.

With the help of thousands of concerned and compassionate people he more than succeeded. His impassioned preaching and calls for reconciliation touched hearts and supplies of clothes and food poured in – particularly sides of pork, earning him his nickname, the Bacon Priest.

At the same time, recognising a deep spiritual hunger, he launched a ‘Rucksack Priest’ campaign to send priests out on motorbikes and early Volkswagen Beetles to people still displaced, bereft and in need of spiritual comfort.

This was soon followed by a Chapel Truck initiative using decommissioned army trucks which were adapted as mobile chapels from which Mass could be said.

Father Werenfried celebrates Mass from a chapel truck. Photo: Aid to the Church in Need

Father Werenfried celebrates Mass from a chapel truck

Building a worldwide network of support for the suffering Church

In the 1950s, Father Werenfried worked tirelessly to assist religious serving within Communist countries, especially in Hungary, to help contemplative Sisters in Poland and to launch a massive aid campaign.

His passion and commitment helped Aid to the Church in Need to build “fortresses of God” – churches constructed along the length of the Iron Curtain.

From this time onwards he began his drive to bring Christ not only to Russia and Eastern Europe, but to all those being “tested in faith” around the world.

Aid to the Church in Need began to grow in size and scope.

Becoming “one of the most important Catholic charities”

Such has been the impact of Aid to the Church in Need’s work worldwide that in June 2002 the charity was described by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) as “a gift of Providence for our time”.

He stated that Aid to the Church in Need had “...turned out to be one of the most important Catholic charities… It is working in a worthwhile manner all over the world.

“Our world is hungering and thirsting for witnesses of the risen Lord, for human beings who pass on the Faith in word and deed as well as for human beings who stand by those in need.”

During his pontificate, in December 2011, Benedict XVI recognised the importance of Aid to the Church in Need's work by elevating the charity to a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church.

Staying true to Father Werenfried’s vision

Thanks to the generous support of our Aid to the Church in Need family of faithful, Father Werenfried’s vision lives on.

Today, our General Secretariat and Project Headquarters is based in Königstein, Germany.

With 17 national offices, Aid to the Church in Need continues to reach out wherever the need is greatest, bringing spiritual and material aid to millions of poor, forgotten and persecuted faithful in more than 130 countries around the world. You can find out more about our work on our What we do pages

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Aid to the Church in Need's mission - Europe - Father Werenfried van Straaten (Aid to the Church in Need) - Humanitarian crisis - Religious freedom