ACN celebrates its 70-year anniversary during the Year of Fatima
This year, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding as well as the 100th anniversary of the appearances of Our Lady of Fatima, to whom the charity has been consecrated.
The international executive president of Aid to the Church in Need, Baron Johannes Heereman, explained: “From the very beginning, this charity has been a miracle: it has given countless people the strength to forgive and to show unconditional magnanimity and grew out of a belief in Jesus Christ as well as the staunch conviction that the gospel holds the truth. Today, our charity continues to bear witness to the living God when hundreds of thousands of people all over the world support our brothers and sisters in the faith in His name.”
The pastoral charity was founded in 1947 by the Dutch Premonstratensian priest Father Werenfried van Straaten. From the very beginning, the focus was on fostering reconciliation as well as bringing about the love of one’s enemies that is called for in the gospel. This can be seen in the fact that the charity, which initially began as an aid campaign to help German expellees after World War II, was launched in Belgium and The Netherlands of all places, where the population had suffered greatly under German occupation. The aid for the “enemies of yesterday” was thus not only intended to alleviate the immediate distress of the people, but also to overcome hatred, foster reconciliation in a ravaged and hostile Europe and at the same time become a “school of love” for those who bestowed the aid.
The pastoral charity rapidly grew and extended its activities to encompass the countries behind the Iron Curtain as well as those in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Over time, it primarily began to focus its efforts on supporting the pastoral work of the Catholic church in areas where the church had become the object of retaliatory measures or lacked the necessary means to fulfil its mission. Next to providing material aid, one of its primary concerns was giving the persecuted “Church of Silence” a voice.
At the same time, the international Catholic pastoral charity, which is closely linked with the message of Fatima and was consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima both 50 years ago and on other occasions since then, is also holding various campaigns to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima. The festivities will culminate with a large international pilgrimage to the Portuguese shrine in September 2017. Father Martin Barta, the international spiritual assistant of the charity, explained that the founding of the charity should be considered within the context of the October revolution and the appearances at Fatima. He continued by saying that Aid to the Church in Need has in the meantime “grown into a global spiritual movement” that calls for a “rebellion of the heart”. This “revolution” is not based on the “false myths of godless communism or humanistic relativism, but on the reality of the cross of Jesus Christ, His Pierced Heart”.
Aid to the Church in Need is consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima because Father Werenfried van Straaten considered the foundation of the charity to be in response to the message of Fatima. The “total rebellion against God”, which first culminated in the October revolution in Russia and initiated persecution against the church of a severity that has yet to find its equal, still continues today in various forms throughout the world. Aid to the Church in Need is an immediate answer to the Mother of God’s call to convert and turn to God. “As a pontifical foundation, we would like to intensify our efforts in helping the church carry the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary all over the world,” Father Barta said.
Today, Aid to the Church in Need supports more than 5,000 projects each year in over 140 countries in the world and maintains 23 national offices. Currently, one focus of its efforts is helping persecuted and threatened Christians in the Middle East and preventing the purging of Christian communities from the cradle of Christianity. For the upcoming Lenten season, the pastoral charity has also set up a global campaign calling for support for the young and vigorous, but materially poor church on the African continent.