Father Werenfried van Straaten, whose name means “warrior for peace,” was born January 17, 1913, just outside of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. He planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher, but found himself called to the priesthood. In 1934, he entered the Norbertine Abbey of Tongerlo, Belgium.
His lifelong work, Aid to the Church in Need, sprang from the ashes of World War II, when Father Werenfried, then just 34, launched a campaign to aid 14 million displaced Germans. At the time, hatred of the German people was still so intense that a relief campaign to help them seemed nearly inconceivable. But on Christmas Day, 1947 with an article, “No Room at the Inn,” written for his Abbey’s newsletter, Father Werenfried passionately called upon faithful to have the courage and compassion to open their hearts to suffering World War II refugees. The brave priest went on to say,
“God is much better than we think and people, too, are better than we think.”
“For me,” he wrote, “the most pressing problem was making room for love again in Europe.” It seemed an impossible task, but Father Werenfried put his trust in Divine Providence, and launched his revolutionary Battle of the Bacon, collecting strips of bacon for the hungry and the poor. That initial campaign was the beginning of Aid to the Church in Need. Since then, the organization has grown tremendously and is still striving to meet the urgent need for spiritual and pastoral care of the suffering and persecuted Church throughout the world.
Father Werenfried always believed his true vocation in life was simply to be “a beggar for God’s suffering children.” He traveled the world with his famous black Begging Hat, to beg on behalf of the suffering, tirelessly working to bring God’s love and comfort to those in need of it most. In 2003, for his passion and dedication to serving those in need, His Holiness John Paul II honored Father Werenfried, naming him as an “Outstanding Apostle of Charity.”
Father Werenfried passed away in January of 2003, just after his 90th birthday, but his spirit is very much alive in the work of Aid to the Church in Need today. Thanks to the many thousands of caring, committed Catholics who reach out to God’s suffering children, Father Werenfried’s beautiful vision of creating an “international movement of love” lives on, bringing the light and hope of Christ wherever there is darkness and despair around the world.