HISTORY OF AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED

Father Werenfried van Straaten 

Father Werenfried van Straaten was born in 1913 in the town of Mijdrecht, near Amsterdam. Named Philip, the future Father Werenfried was meant to become a teacher, like his father. Certainly his parents had always wanted one of their sons to become a priest, but as both their other sons had already joined the Augustinian Order, Philip, the third son, was expected to follow in his father`s footsteps. Philip for his own part would rather have studied painting, but he went along with his parents' wishes and studied classical philology.

Even as a student he was very engaged in social issues: he actually founded a newspaper and even a political party. It was thus a complete surprise when in 1934 he entered the Norbertine abbey of Tongerlo in Belgium. While in the monastery poor health almost sealed his fate and he came close to having to leave as the doctors had determined that his poor physical constitution would not permit him to exercise the normal activities of a priest. God however had other plans and so he remained for the time being as the abbot`s secretary, until the time came for him to transform the name "Werenfried", ('warrior for peace') which he had assumed as a monk into a programme for life.

36196It was at Christmas 1947, when this young 34 year old Dutch Norbertine priest, wrote an article entitled "Peace on Earth?/No Room at the Inn". In this article he called on the Belgian people to help the 14 million homeless Germans, expelled from the Eastern territories, 6 million of whom were Catholics. Nobody could have imagined that this would be the birth of a charity that today is actively involved supporting the Church in over 140 countries around the globe.

The times then were bleak indeed; Europe lay in ruins and so many Belgians were still mourning loved ones killed by the Germans; the wounds of war were still raw and open... But so deeply was Father Werenfried moved by the misery of the German people, especially those expelled from their homes in the East, that he could not remain silent, but had to speak out loud and clear. And the incredible happened - his appeal triggered an enormous wave of generosity and sacrifice among the Belgians, and then the Dutch.

One of the first things that Father Werenfried requested of the Flemish countryfolk was bacon, so that he could at least ease the immense physical hunger of the refugees. Not only this, but he had quickly realised that these peasant folk were more likely to have food in the house than money, and were also willing to part with some of this. Indeed, so much bacon was collected that Father Werenfried soon earned his the nickname of "Bacon Priest".

14092From 1948 onwards Father Werenfried worked together closely with Monsignor Kindermann, who ran an organisation for refugees and also a seminary for those expelled from the East, in the town of Königstein, near Frankfurt in Germany.

It was from Königstein that he launched his programme of providing wheels for the many "rucksack priests" - Catholic priests from among the displaced refugee population who sought to minister to their scattered flocks in war-torn Germany.

By 1950 he was financing the first "chapel trucks" - converted buses used as mobile churches to bring the Mass and sacraments to the scattered Catholic refugees in Germany.