Aid to the Church in Need
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Aid to the Church in Need (Kirche in Not in German, Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre in Italian) describes itself as "an international pastoral aid organization of the Catholic Church, which yearly offers financial support to more than 5,000 projects worldwide. We try to help Catholics in need wherever they are repressed or persecuted and therefore prevented from living according to their faith."
What is now Aid to the Church in Need was founded by Dutch Catholic priest Father Werenfried van Straaten at Christmas 1947 to aid German expellees and refugees fled from or expelled from Eastern Europe in the wake of the Second World War, many of them Catholic.
Following a 1984 decree of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, Aid to the Church in Need was recognized by the Catholic Church as a "universal public association of faithful".
In 2009, the organization raised more than $108 million, entirely from private donations.
Aid to the Church in Need was born out of the ashes of World War II, when Father Werenfried Van Straaten — a young Dutch priest whose name means "Warrior for Peace" — set out to meet the material and spiritual needs of homeless and dispossessed victims of the war, including the German civilians in occupied and partitioned Germany after May 1945.
In the more than half century since, Aid to the Church in Need has expanded its mission, bringing material aid and the light of the Gospel to millions of poor, forgotten, and persecuted people in more than 120 countries. It all began on Christmas Day, 1947, with an article, "No Room at the Inn," written by Father Werenfried for his abbey's newsletter Excerpt from, "No Room at the Inn," the article that gave birth to the organization in 1947.
"Eighty miles to the east lies a town (in post-war Germany) in ruins. Hardly anything remains of it except for a gigantic air-raid shelter, a so-called Bunker, like the ones the Germans built everywhere to protect the population from bombing.
Those of the impoverished people of the town who still remain alive dwell in this single Bunker. Thousands are crowded together in pestilential stench. Each family, insofar as they can still be called families, lies huddled together on a few square yards of concrete.
Here is neither fire nor warmth, other than the warmth of bodies crowded together. Among these people too, Christ seeks to dwell in His purity, His love, His goodness. The shepherds worshipped Christ in a stable, but these people have not even a stable. By human standards Christ cannot live here.
There is no room for Him."
Historical Timeline of Aid to the Church in Need
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- 1947 Iron Curtain Church Relief (later renamed Aid to the Church in Need) is born quietly on Christmas Day in the Norbertine abbey of Tongerlo in Belgium when 34-year-old Father Werenfried ("Warrior for Peace") Van Straaten, publishes "No Room at the Inn" in his abbey's newsletter. In the article, the Dutch-born priest makes an impassioned plea to help 15 million German refugees living in poverty after World War II and calls for reconciliation with the "enemies of yesterday."
- 1948 Help for Germany — clothes, shoes, and food, especially bacon — flows across the borders from Belgium and Holland. Father Werenfried's bacon collecting campaigns earn him the lifelong nickname of the "Bacon Priest." Later 3,000 poor "ruck sack priests" — itinerant priests ministering to their fellow refugees in Germany — are "adopted" by hundreds of thousands of Flemish school pupils who send their support.
- 1949 Initial links with present headquarters in Königstein, Germany, are established. In Belgium, the "Vehicles for God" initiative, which provides the "ruck sack priests" with motorbikes and later with 120 Volkswagen Beetles to reach their flocks, is launched.
- 1950 "Chapel-Truck Initiative" converts second-hand buses owned by the Dutch railways into mobile churches. Chapel-trucks allow refugee priests to reach their scattered flocks, celebrate Mass, administer the sacraments, and bring them critical material aid as well.
- 1951 New churches are built in areas where displaced Germans have settled. The first of several "fortresses for God" — prayer houses along the fringes of the Iron Curtain — is built.
- 1956 Aid to the Church in Need is established in Germany, with an office in Königstein. Father Werenfried meets Cardinal Jozsef Mindzenty, the Hungarian primate imprisoned and tortured for opposing communism. A massive aid campaign for Hungary is launched.
- 1957 Father Werenfried meets Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, the Polish primate persecuted under communist rule. Aid to the Church in Need begins support for seminarians and contemplative nuns in Poland. The first Austrian National Office of the charity is established.
- 1958 Aid to the Church in Need publishes its newsletter The Mirror for benefactors. Today, The Mirror is published in seven languages.
- 1959 Father Werenfried visits refugees in Asia and meets Mother Teresa of Calcutta for the first time. A year later, Father Werenfried's autobiographical account of Aid to the Church in Need's founding and work, They Call Me the Bacon Priest, is published in six languages.
- 1962 At the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII asks Father Werenfried to expand Aid to the Church in Need's work to Latin America.
- 1964 Aid to the Church in Need is formally recognized by Rome as a "Pium Sodalitum" and placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See. The organization's international headquarters are moved from Belgium to Rome.
- 1965 Aid to the Church in Need's begins working in Africa, and opens a national office in France.
- 1966 With the support of Father Werenfried, Mother Hadewych founds a new congregation in Bukavu in the Belgian Congo (today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo). It is called the "Daughters of the Resurrection" and affiliated with Aid to the Church in Need as a "pious union."
- 1969 Aid for threatened Church in the Philippines begins. The charity officially changes its name from "Iron Curtain Church Relief" to "Aid to the Church in Need" to reflect the broadening scope of its work. Father Werenfried publishes Where God Weeps. National offices are opened in Switzerland and Spain.
- 1973 300 Swiss ex-army trucks are purchased, converted, and shipped to Brazil to facilitate the Church's pastoral work in the vast Amazonian jungle, providing support and increasing vital contact between priests and people
- 1975 Aid to the Church in Need's international headquarters are moved from Rome to Königstein, near Frankfurt, Germany. Soon after, Aid to the Church in Need begins providing for "boat-people" from Vietnam, especially those on the ill-fated "Cap Anamur." Refugees from Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia, fleeing communist oppression in Laos and Cambodia are also a special focus of ACN's outreach.
- 1977 Aid to the Church in Need opens its national in the USA
- 1979 Aid to the Church in Need introduces the Child's Bible to mark the International Year of the Child. By 2002, more than 40 million copies of the Bible in 120 languages have been published and distributed around the world.
- 1984 Aid to the Church in Need becomes a "universal public association of pontifical right," whose statues conform to Canon Law and are approved by the Vatican. Aid to the Church in Need has offices or is otherwise represented in 13 countries.
- 1989 Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe collapse. Father Werenfried travels to Romania to meet with bishops of the still-banned Eastern-rite Catholic Church and follows-up with an aid campaign. New Child's Bible, God Speaks to His Children, is launched and becomes an Aid to the Church in Need hallmark.
- 1992 Aid to the Church in Need launches a new aid program aimed at re-evangelizing Eastern Europe and countries of the new Russian Federation. Father Werenfried travels to Russia for the first time and meets Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II of Moscow, and other Orthodox bishops. Aid to the Church in Need pledges support for the pastoral work of the Russian Orthodox Church.
- 1993 Father Werenfried addresses hundreds of thousands of young people at World Youth Day in Denver and calls for the conversion of both the East and the West.
- 1997 Aid to the Church in Need celebrates its Golden Jubilee. High points include a special Mass in Rome, a meeting with Pope John Paul II and a pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal with 2,000 Aid to the Church in Need donors and friends.
- 1998 Aid to the Church in Need's mission extends to more than 120 countries around the world.
- 1999 Aid to the Church in Need elects Hans Peter Röthlin, a Swiss national, as president. In Rome, Röthlin and Father Werenfried have an audience with Pope John Paul II.
- 2000 In Rome, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, Vatican prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, pays tribute to Father Werenfried on the diamond Jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood. Aid to the Church in Need is consecrated to Mary the Mother of God at the High Altar in St Peter's Basilica.
- 2001 Father Werenfried meets Pope John Paul II during his pastoral trip to Ukraine. In Lviv, the Pope blesses the property on which a Greek Catholic seminary for priests will be built with the help of Aid to the Church in Need.
- 2002 In April, Pope John Paul II reaffirms Aid to the Church in Need's work after concelebrating a special Mass in his private chapel with Father Werenfried.
- 2003 Father Werenfried dies Jan. 31 at age 90.
More than 20 bishops and nearly 100 priests, and other faithful gathered for his Father Werenfried's Requiem Mass at Germany's Limburg Cathedral on February 7. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, a top-ranking Vatican official who presided at the ceremony, praises Father Werenfried for a lifetime of showing "such loving concern for so many. We owe him our thanks for a work of charity where God's children from every nation can enrich one another in love."