Born out of the ashes of World War II, Aid to the Church in Need
came into being in 1947 when a young Norbertine priest named Father Werenfried van Straaten — whose name means "Warrior for Peace" — set out to meet the material and spiritual needs of homeless and dispossessed victims of the war.
With the help of many thousand concerned and compassionate Catholics, he more than succeeded. His impassioned preaching and calls for reconciliation touched the hearts of thousands. Help and supplies poured in, and Father Werenfried’s charity began to grow in size and scope, reaching out to more and more people in need.
In the 1950s, Father Werenfried worked tirelessly to assist religious serving within Communist countries especially in Hungary, helped contemplative sisters in Poland, and launched a massive aid campaign. ACN built “fortresses of God,” churches constructed along the Iron Curtain.
In 1959, Father Werenfried visited refugees in Asia and met Mother Teresa of Calcutta for the first time. A year later came the publication of Father Werenfried's autobiographical account of Aid to the Church in Need's founding and mission, They Call Me the Bacon Priest.
At the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Pope John XXIII asked Father Werenfried to expand the organization’s work to Latin America, and over the next five decades, Aid to the Church in Need continued to expand as a charity to meet the needs of the suffering Church. ACN soon began working in the Philippines, and then in Africa. With the support of Father Werenfried, Mother Hadewych founded a new congregation called the "Daughters of the Resurrection” in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 1975, ACN’s outreach grew to include Vietnam, where Aid to the Church in Need began providing for the "boat people", as well as refugees from Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia fleeing communist oppression in Laos and Cambodia. To mark the International Year of the Child, in 1979, ACN introduced the Child’s Bible, which now has more than 40 million copies in print and is distributed worldwide in 120 languages.
Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, as Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe collapsed, ACN worked to bring relief to the suffering in Eastern Europe, while in the early years of strife in the 21st century, ACN outreach has extended to the victims of conflict in Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other African nations.
Long before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a friend and benefactor of Aid to the Church in Need. In June 2002, he described the charity as "a gift of Providence for our time," stating that ACN had "...turned out to be one of the most important Catholic charities… It is working in a worthwhile manner all over the world. Our world is hungering and thirsting for witnesses of the risen Lord, for human beings who pass on the Faith in word and deed as well as for human beings who stand by those in need."
In 2008, the Middle East, ACN continues working to counter the persecution and killing of Catholics and Catholic religious by Islamic fundamentalists, and is reaching out to the millions of displaced persons in Iraq, and other countries in the region. Pope Benedict XVI, addressing the issue of persecution of Catholics in the Middle East, said, "May God grant Aid to the Church in Need the strength to help wherever the need is greatest."