How it all happened - the Story of ACN
Below we give some of the more important events of the first sixty years of ACN's history in helping the work of the Church
for the poor and those suffering Christina persecution worldwide...
It was on Christmas Day 1947 that ACN was born in the Norbertine abbey of Tongerlo in Belgium. It was here that the Dutch Norbertine priest, Father Werenfried van Straaten, published an article in his abbey newsletter, entitled "Peace on Earth?/No Room at the Inn". In it he appealed for help for the 14 million German refugees expelled from their homes in the former German territories of Eastern Europe and now living in poverty in a bombed-out Germany. At the same time he appealed for reconciliation with these "enemies of yesterday".
During 1948 help flooded in for Germany from Belgium and Holland. It included food, clothes, shoes, and especially bacon - which quickly earned Father Werenfried his nickname of "Bacon Priest". Later 3,000 so-called "rucksack priests" - refugee priests ministering to their fellow refugees in Germany - were "adopted" by hundreds of thousands of Flemish school pupils.
In this year the first links with our present headquarters in Königstein, Germany, were established. Father Werenfried began an important collaboration with Monsignor Kindermann, who had founded a refugee centre and a seminary for refugee seminarians here. Back in Belgium big campaigns were launched, among them the "Vehicle for God" initiative, which aimed to provide the "rucksack priests" with motorbikes and later with 120 Volkswagen "Beetles".
This year saw the launch of the "Chapel Truck" campaign. Second-hand buses owned by the Dutch railways were converted into mobile churches and sent East, so that the refugee priests could minister to their scattered flocks, celebrating Mass, administering the sacraments and bringing them vital material aid as well.
The second "Church in Need" congress takes place in Königstein (the first was the previous year in Holland). Here representatives from 18 countries report on the situation of persecuted Christians and the Church behind the "Iron Curtain". This marks the beginning of our help for the persecuted and oppressed Church in the East.
The International Building Order is founded. It aims to build "Churches for God and houses for the poor".
ACN is established in Germany, with an office in Königstein.
ACN begins its financial support for the training of priests and the support of contemplative nuns in Poland. The first Austrian National Office of ACN is established.
Aid for the refugees from China, North Korea and North Vietnam.
Pope John XXIII asks us to help for Latin America. Father Werenfried visits this continent for the first time.
Father Werenfried meets the legendary Cardinal Slipyj in Rome. Following their talks our aid begins for the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine.
ACN is already canonically established in a number of dioceses. Now it is formally recognised by Rome as a "Pium Sodalitum" and placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See. The International Headquarters of the organisation are moved from Belgium to Rome and our national office in Italy is also founded.
The start of our aid campaigns for the Church in Africa begins. National offices are opened in France and the USA.
With the support of Father Werenfried, Mother Hadewych founds a new congregation in Bukavu (Belgian Congo - today the Republic of Congo). It is called the "Daughters of the Resurrection" and affiliated to our organisation as a "Pious Union".
National offices are opened in the Netherlands and in Ireland.
The year of the "Prague Spring".
Both before and after this event Father Werenfried continues to
organise aid for the persecuted Church in Czech Republic.
The start of our aid for the
threatened Church in the Philippines. The Catholic charity formally takes on
the name by which it is known today: "Aid to the Church in Need".
Father Werenfried publishes his book "Where God Weeps". National
offices are opened in Switzerland and Spain.
We open our national office in the
This year sees the launch of our
AMA project for the Amazon basin of Brazil. 300 Swiss ex-army
lorries are purchased, converted and shipped to Brazil to serve
in the pastoral work of the Church in the vast jungle regions of the
Amazon, thus providing support and maintaining vital contact between
priest and people.
The international headquarters of
ACN are moved from Rome to Königstein, near Frankfurt in
We support the "boat-people" from
Vietnam, especially those on the ill-fated "Cap Anamur". ACN also
helps the refugees in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, who
have fled from communism in Laos and Cambodia.
We launch our "Child's Bible" to
mark the International Year of the Child. By the end of 1988 our
first Child's Bible will have been published in 16 million copies
and 51 languages and distributed in 91 countries around the
As an expression of solidarity
with the Church, we hold our first General Assembly in Rome and
elect our first president. This year also sees the appeal "A Ship
for Poland" in which 11 different charities combine and collect tons
of aid goods for Poland.
We open our national office in
ACN is recognised by Rome as an
Association of pontifical right of the Universal Church. By now we
have offices or representations in 13 in different
A major breakthrough for "Aid to
the Church in Need" is achieved when Soviet officials grant
permission for the import of 120,000 bibles.
The collapse of the communist
regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. Father Werenfried travels to
Romania during the dramatic events between Christmas and New year
and for the first time meets with bishops of the still-banned
Eastern-rite Catholic Church. An aid campaign is launched
immediately. Our new Child's Bible "God speaks to His Children" is
produced and becomes one of the greatest projects of our
The first international congress
of the staff and friends of ACN takes place in Vallendar, on the
Rhine. Over two hundred people from all round the world discuss the
new situation in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the
possibilities of giving aid. Bishops from the East tell about the
years of Christian persecution in their countries. A first "new generation"
chapel truck is launched. We open another national office, this time
With help from our organisation,
Cardinal Lubachivsky returns from exile in Rome to L'viv, the
Ukrainian capital. Father Werenfried goes with him and, following
the service of thanksgiving in the cathedral, speaks to hundreds of
thousands on the Opera Square in the city centre. ACN supports the
leaders of the 5-million-strong Ukrainian Catholic Church
(Eastern-rite), which until now has survived underground.
We launch a wide-ranging new aid
programme for the re-evangelisation of Eastern Europe and the
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 in St Petersburg and
Novgorod. We promise support for the pastoral work of the Russian
We extend and intensify our aid
for the persecuted Church in Communist China. We open a new national
office in Portugal.
We open our national office in
ACN celebrates its Golden Jubilee.
There is a special Mass in Rome, a meeting with the Pope and a
pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal with two thousand donors and
friends of the organisation - the high-point of our celebrations. We
also open a new national office, in Brazil.
the Chapel truck mission, but now in Russia with the "Chapel Boat"
on the Volga and the Don. The ACN national offices in Germany,
Switzerland and Austria organise an "Aid to the Church in Need"
Congress in the town of Königstein, near Frankfurt in Germany. The
theme of this Congress is "The Church in Eastern Europe - Hope for
the People". ACN is now helping in 150 countries around the
the Little Catholic Catechism "I Believe". This book is intended
above all for priests and catechists, but also for families and
young adults, as an aid to the instruction in the
Congress, organised by the German branch of "Aid to the Church in
Need", was entitled: "Fresh start 2000 - the Church and the new
Europe". Father Werenfried van Straaten took part in the congress of
the movement "Communione e Liberazione" in Rimini,
"Aid to the Church in
Need" has elected a new President. He is a Swiss national, Hans
Peter Röthlin. From October of this year he has headed this
international Catholic charity. Father Joachim Alliende was at the
same time appointed as the international Spiritual Assistant. They
met Pope John Paul II in audience in Rome, together with the founder
of ACN, Father Werenfried van Straaten, who wanted to present to him
the new leadership of our charity.
(From left to right: Father Joaquim Alliende, Father
Werenfried van Straaten, Hans-Peter
Pilgrimage to Rome by the staff
and benefactors during the Jubilee Year. Among the high points were
the tributes paid by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos to Father Werenfried
to mark his diamond Jubilee of the priesthood, the public audience
with the Holy Father on St Peter's Square and the concluding
consecration of our charity to Mary the Mother of God, which was
celebrated at the High Altar in St Peter's Basilica.
At the end of June Fr. 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
From 22 - 28 April the first ever
meeting of all the ecclesiastical assistants of ACN is held,
initially in Königstein and afterwards in Rome, together with the
leadership of the charity and its founder. High-ranking Vatican
diplomats and other staff express their gratitude and recognition
for the work of ACN. The climax of the meeting is the concelebrated
Holy Mass together with the Pope on 27 April, in his private
On 17 January Father Werenfried
celebrates his 90th birthday. To commemorate the occasion a solemn
festive Mass is held in Limburg cathedral, together with more than
500 staff, friends and benefactors. Bishop Franz Kamphaus of Limburg
gives the main address and tells the congregation that "religion is
still exciting today", and he cites the life and work of Father
Werenfried as the best proof of this.
On 31 January
2003 Father Werenfried dies, after a short but serious illness, in
Bad Soden, near Königstein. His solemn Requiem Mass is once again
held in Limburg Cathedral. This time the main celebrant and speaker
is the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal
Dario Castrillon Hoyos. Concelebrating with him are Cardinal Joachim
Meisner of Cologne, Bishop Franz Kamphaus and numerous other bishops
and priests from all over the world. As a symbol of the resurrection
and of his personal bond with the Pope the Paschal candle from the
private chapel of the Holy Father, which the Pope had personally
given to Father Werenfried on 27 April of the previous year, stands
burning alongside the coffin. The founder of Aid to the Church in
Need is laid to rest on 7 February 2003 in the town of Königstein,
in the presence of a great throng of friends and
conference, for the members of ACN, is held from 11 - 14 September
in Castelgandolfo, near Rome, to consider the subject of "Father
Werenfried - his Legacy and Mission"
The significance of the central theme of
the conference: Father Werenfried - Inheritance and Mission, were
underlined by Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne and Cardinal
Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, as also by the charity's own
international ecclesiastical, Father Joaquín Alliende Luco. The
congress ended with a forumdiscussion together with the prefect of
the clergy congregation, Cardinal Darìo Castrilló Hoyos, to whom the
charity is directly answerable.
On 31 January,
the first anniversary of the death of Father Werenfried,
commemorative Masses are held in all the 16 donor countries and also
in some of the project countries of ACN. Cardinal Meisner celebrates
a special Mass in Cologne cathedral and pays tribute to Father
Werenfried in his sermon.
From 5 - 7 March
of this year a congress is held in the city of Augsburg, in southern
Germany, organised by the three German-speaking national offices of
ACN - Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The central theme is
"Treffpunkt Weltkirche" - the Universal Church as a meeting-point of
the nations. On this occasion a new initiative, in the shape of a
"mobile confessional" is presented to the general public and
solemnly blessed by Bishop Mixa.
From 16 - 19
September there is an international pilgrimage of ACN to Poland,
taking in such notable shrines and historic sites as Czestochowa,
Wadowice and Cracow. Over 450 benefactors and staff members of ACN,
from 13 different countries, take part. The consecration of ACN to
the Mother of God is again renewed in front of the renowned image of
the black Madonna in Czestochowa.
On 22 January, a solemn Mass is celebrated by Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who had also celebrated the Mass in Cologne cathedral, the previous year, to mark the second anniversary of Father Werenfried's death. It is followed by a meeting with the benefactors of the Catholic charity on the theme of "Forty years of help for Africa".
On 24 and 25 May of the same year ACN holds its General Assembly, in Königstein, to elect the leadership of the charity. The president, Hans-Peter Röthlin, is re-elected for a further term, while the chairman of the Canadian board, the international jurist Lubomyr Kozak, and the Dutch jurist and chairman of the Netherlands' governing board, Dr Peter van der Velden, are elected as first and second vice-presidents respectively. The current international ecclesiastical assistant of the charity, Father Joaquin Alliende, is likewise re-nominated and confirmed in office for a further term by the Vatican.
On 31 May 2005 the organisation bids farewell to its longstanding secretary general, Antonia Willemsen, who has reached retirement age. Her successor, Dr Norbert Neuhaus takes up his official duties on 1st June.
Photo: Balz Röthlin
16-21 August: ACN is present at the World Youth Day in Cologne. The event also sees the staging of the musical "Pelikan", about the martyrs of the modern age. The play was written by Father Joaquín Alliende, the International Ecclesiastical Assistant of ACN, and performed by the Polish performing group "Theatre A".
26 September: The new Father Werenfried Centre is formally opened at the international headquarters of ACN in Königstein near Frankfurt, Germany. It includes the office where the founder worked -- still in its original condition -- plus a Father Werenfried Archives and various multimedia presentations. Likewise exhibited is the renowned "hat of millions" which Father Werenfried used for over 50 years to collect donations in.
Photo: Balz Röthlin
Photo: ACN/Ursel Haaf
31st January: A new Polish national office is opened in the capital Warsaw. The opening ceremony is led by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the prefect of the Vatican's clergy congregation. ACN now has national offices in 17 different countries.
1-7 July: ACN takes part in the World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain, where the charity presents its Child's Bible "God speaks to his Children" and its Little Catechism "I Believe" in the context of a general exhibition about its work.
13 July: The square in front of the international headquarters of ACN in Königstein, Germany, is renamed the “Pater-Werenfried-Platz“ (Father Werenfried Square).
26 July: Dr. Norbert Neuhaus resigns as secretary general of ACN. His role is taken over ad interim by Regina Lynch and Carlos Gorricho.
Photo: Father Dariusz Michalski SJ
ACN celebrates its Diamond Jubilee -- 1947-2007
11 April: The Holy Father welcomes Father Joaquín Alliende, Peter Humeniuk (ACN's specialist for Russia), Mark von Riedemann (director of CRTN) and Nikolaj Goryachkin (director of Blagovest Media in St. Petersburg) in a private audience and thanks the charity for its commitment to ecumenical dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church. He encourages ACN to continue further along this path.
12th May: During the papal trip to Brazil, the international president of ACN, Hans Peter Röthlin presents the Holy Father with five Child's Bibles, which Pope Benedict XVI then passes on to Brazilian children. The ceremony is held to commemorate the total of 10 million Child's Bibles that ACN has published for Brazil by this year. The handover ceremony takes place during a visit by the Holy Father to the Fazenda da Esperança in Guaratinguetá, a rehabilitation centre for young addicts that is also supported by ACN.
14 June: The general council of ACN elects a Frenchman, Mr Pierre-Marie Morel, aged 59, as the new secretary general of the charity. Pierre-Marie Morel has a background in industry and wide experience in multicultural and international management. He is a member of the „Emmanuel“ community. He will take up his duties with ACN in January 2008.
15-17 June: Dr. Marek Zurowski of ACN's international headquarters, and Father Waldemar Cislo, the director of the Polish national office, represent ACN at the seventh International Gniezno Congress in the city of Gniezno, Poland. As panellists at an open forum talk and discussion, they recall the persecution of Christians during the 20th century. Also taking part in the Congress were the Vatican's Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, and the president of the European Parliament, Dr. Hans Gert Pöttering.
4-9 September: Father Joaquín Alliende, the international ecclesiastical assistant of ACN, and Antonia Willemsen, the president of the German national office of ACN who was herself for many years secretary general of the organisation, attend the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania. The principal theme of the conference is devoted to ecumenical relations with the Orthodox Churches.
13-16 September: A meeting is held in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome by the international leadership of ACN, to mark the 60 years of the Catholic charity's existence. The theme of the conference is „Aus unserer Wurzel hoffnungsvoll die Zukunft wagen“ (venturing hopefully towards the future, from our roots). The high point is a message of greeting from the Pope, during the Angelus greeting on 16 September, given from the summer residence of the Holy Father. Prior to this Pope Benedict XVI had already addressed a message of congratulations to the charity through Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Bertone.
First Sunday of Advent: Father Joaquín Alliende, President Hans-Peter Röthlin, Secretary General Pierre-Marie Morel and Marie-Ange Siebrecht, ACN’s section head for the countries of the Middle East, travel together to the Holy Land. The climax of their visit is a solemn Holy Mass in the seminary church of Beit Jala near Bethlehem, at which the principal celebrant is Archbishop Fouad Twal, Coadjutor to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, followed by a joint prayer in the Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem. From this holy spot ACN launches an appeal for peace in the world and for solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land. This journey, which marks both the conclusion and the crowning of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of ACN, is a deliberate allusion to the original article "Peace on earth? No room at the Inn" by Father Werenfried, which he wrote for Christmas 1947 and which marked his first ever appeal for help of poor and persecuted
Christians and thus led to the founding of the Catholic charity known today as ACN.
Photo: Copyright-L'Osservatore Romano
Photo: Evilazio Bezerra