The roots of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) go back to the time after World War II. As Europe lay shattered, millions of people were fleeing, the majority were homeless and tormented by hunger. This also affected the East German expellees.
For the Dutch Father Werenfried van Straaten, this was not only a new starting point but the hour of birth of his life's work. In 1947 he founded ‘Aid to the Eastern Priests’, which would become, Aid to the Church in Need. His relief organisation provided food and clothes for millions of Eastern German Refugees, and stood by their side with pastoral care in these difficult times. Actually this was almost an inseparable task. Above all, when considering that in Belgium and the Netherlands he was asking for donations to the victims of the German occupation.
In his passionate appeals he preached compassion and reconciliation, and eventually he managed to trigger a wave of helpfulness. Since the majority had no money, they donated goods - particularly sides of pork - so from then on, he was known as the 'Bacon Priest'.
Image: Father Werenfried, the "Bacon Priest". Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.
Charity as faith in practice
Under Father Werenfried's leadership, ACN instigated original aid projects time and time again. So-called rucksack priests were sent on bicycles and Volkswagen 'Beetles' to remote provinces. Used trucks were converted to mobile churches which travelled the length and bredth of Germany for a generation bringing pastoral care and the sacraments to the exiled German Catholics.
When the Cold War began in in 1950s, ACN started its unparalleled action for the persecuted Catholic and Orthodox Church in the countries behind the Iron Curtain. In the 1960s, the relief programs were also expanded to Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In 2011 Aid to the Church was raised by Pope Benedict XVI to a Pontifical Foundation meaning it speaks in the name of the Church. While a Pontifical Foundation, ACN remains completely independent. Projects are decided completely by ACN and funded entirely by ACN benefactors. ACN received no public or Church monies whatsoever.
Image: Holy mass in front of one of the ACN chapel trucks. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.
Aid to the Church in Need Australia
ACN arrived in Australia in 1965 when it was bought here by Fr Christopher Coenen, the assistant to Fr Werenfried. When Fr Coenan returned to Germany in 1969 he entrusted the local running of the charity to Mr John Collignon and it was nurtured by the Collignon family for fifty years, until the retirement of John’s son Phillip in 2017. In 2018, Mr Bernard Toutounji began as National Director of ACN Australia.
Please watch here a video message from the National Director about the mission and work of Aid to the Church in Need.