The roots of Aid to the Church in Need go back to the period following the Second World War. Europe was in ruins; millions of people were displaced or in flight, often without shelter and plagued by hunger – with refugees from eastern Germany particularly affected.
Into this dark hour was born what was to become the life work of Father Werenfried van Straaten. In 1947, he founded the welfare organisation “Ostpriesterhilfe”, from which the charity Iron Curtain Church Relief, today’s Aid to the Church in Need, arose.
» Think of the young people who dedicate their lives to God, to serve Him and the least. «Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need
His relief association organised food and clothing for millions of eastern German refugees and provided spiritual care during this time of crisis. Initially the task seemed nearly impossible – especially considering that those from whom he sought donations were themselves victims of the German war occupation in Belgium and the Netherlands.
In his passionate appeals, Father Werenfried preached brotherly love and reconciliation, which ultimately triggered a wave of assistance. Since most people had little money, they donated food, including bacon. Before long, Father Werenfried became known as the “Bacon Priest”.
Charity as concretely lived faith
Under the leadership of Father Werenfried, the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need was repeatedly successful in getting unique aid projects off the ground. For instance, priests with backpacks were sent on motorcycles and in VW Beetles to remote provinces, and chapel trucks were sent as mobile churches to displaced persons.
» The camaraderie among the staff and volunteers is simply wonderful, and this itself makes our job all the more worthwhile. «Mervyn Maciel, volunteer, UK
When the Cold War began in the 1950s, the charity launched an unprecedented campaign to lend support to the persecuted Catholic Church in countries behind the Iron Curtain. In the 1960s, aid programmes were extended to Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Thanks to the hundreds of thousands of benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need, annual donations total over 110 million Euros. The foundation is now active throughout the world. This success story proves once again how practical charity grows out of a lived faith.
Following our inclusion under the Vatican’s umbrella, our General Secretariat in Germany and our 23 National Sections have been successful in building a unique bridge between benefactors and those in need.