ACN History

“Christianity is being tested.  Persecuted Christians are being tested in their faith… But we are all being tested in our love.  We have to prove that we possess love, in spite of all our differences of opinion…a love that burns like a flame in the dark night of the persecuted Church.” Father Werenfried van Straaten

In 1947, a young Norbertine priest named Father Werenfried van Straaten set out to meet the material and spiritual needs of homeless and displaced victims of post-World War II.  With the help of thousands of concerned and compassionate Catholics, he succeeded.

His impassioned preaching and calls for reconciliation touched the hearts of many. Help and supplies poured in, including strips of bacon for the poor and hungry which earned him the nickname, “The Bacon Priest.”  So began Father Werenfried’s charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

ACN History
Rome January 18, 1997. Audience with Saint John Paul II on the occasion of the 84th birthday of Fr. Werenfried van Straaten and the opening of the Jubilee Year.

In the 1950s, Father Werenfried worked tirelessly to assist religious serving within Communist countries like Hungary and Poland.  ACN also built “fortresses of God,” whereby churches were 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.

India, Calcutta, 1961
Accompanied by Mother Teresa, Father Werenfried visits the poor and sick during his trip to India.

ACN’s outreach grew to include Vietnam in 1975, where Aid to the Church in Need began providing for the “boat people,” as well as refugees from Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia who were 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 50 million copies in print and is distributed worldwide in 176 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.  In the early years of 2000, ACN extended aid to victims of conflict in Rwanda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Our help continues in Nigeria and other regions in Africa under the devastating influence of Boko Haram.

In 2011, Aid to the Church in Need was elevated by Pope Benedict XVI to the status of a Pontifical Foundation.   This canonical act was enacted by a Chirograph, an official document in Latin personally signed by the Pope.

A dear friend to Aid to the Church in Need, Pope Francis said of ACN in 2015, I entrust them to carry on the spirit they have inherited from Father Werenfried van Straaten who had the vision at the right time to carry out in the world gestures of closeness, goodness, love and mercy.”

Today, 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 Syria and Iraq, and other countries in the region.  It also remains prepared to come to the aid when natural disasters occur such as the devastating earthquakes which occurred in Nepal and Ecuador.

Today, thanks to the generous support of our ACN family of faithful, Father Werenfried’s vision lives on. Aid to the Church in Need continues to reach out wherever the need is greatest, bringing spiritual and material aid to millions of poor, forgotten, and persecuted faithful in more than 145 countries. Please join us.