Werenfried van Straaten, the "Bacon Priest," Dies

Founder of Aid to the Church in Need

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KONIGSTEIN, Germany, JAN. 31, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Father Werenfried van Straaten, the Dutch-born founder of the international Catholic association Aid to the Church in Need, died today. He was 90.

On Feb. 7, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, will preside over the Mass in Limburg, Germany, for the repose of his soul.

Father van Straaten’s funeral will be held Saturday at the Norbertine Abbey of Tongerlo in Belgium, the Premonstratensian Abbey he entered at 27.

Werenfried van Straaten was born on Jan. 17, 1913, in Mijdrecht, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. At one time he had intended to become a teacher like his father, and in 1932 he began studying classical philology at the University of Utrecht. But in 1934 he entered the abbey.

Following a bout of tuberculosis, his doctor decided that the young Werenfried was no longer up to the rigors of pastoral or missionary work, and his superiors wondered whether he should leave the abbey. In the end it was decided that he should remain in the monastery and work as the abbot’s secretary. As such, he was also responsible for editing the Abbey newsletter «Toren» (Tower).

At Christmas 1947 he wrote an article entitled «Peace on Earth? No Room at the Inn.» In it the 34-year-old appealed for help for the 14 million homeless Germans, expelled from the Eastern territories, 6 million of whom were Catholics. The response was beyond all expectations and marked the start of the organization known today as Aid to the Church in Need.

One of the first things that Father Werenfried requested of the Flemish country folk was bacon, for the famished refugees. He knew they had more food than money, and were willing to share what they had.

Indeed, so much of the meat was collected that Father Werenfried became known as the «bacon priest.»

From 1948 onward Father Werenfried worked closely with a monsignor who ran an organization for refugees and also a seminary for those expelled from the East, in the town of Konigstein, near Frankfurt.

From Königstein he launched his program of providing wheels for the many «rucksack priests» — Catholic clergy from among the displaced refugee population who sought to minister to their scattered flocks in war-torn Germany. By 1950 he was financing the first «chapel trucks» — converted buses used as mobile churches to bring the Mass and sacraments to the scattered Catholic refugees in Germany.

By then, Aid to the Church in Need had been active in Germany and Austria for six years. The sickly young novice of 1934 had turned into a brilliant organizer, a powerful public speaker, and a highly successful popular missionary.

He was making as many as 90 church appeals a month and cheerfully acknowledged begging to be his true vocation. Even in recent years he occasionally sat after Mass at the back of the church with his worn-out and by now legendary «Hat of millions,» collecting money for his cause.

It was in 1953 that his small handwritten newsletter, the «Mirror,» first appeared. Today this bimonthly bulletin is published in seven languages, with a circulation of around 700,000.

In 1956, during the Hungarian Uprising, Father Werenfried traveled to Budapest and met Cardinal József Mindszenty, who had just been released from prison. It was the start of a flood of aid for the Church in Hungary.

In 1959 Father Werenfried traveled through Asia, visiting the refugee areas and meeting Mother Teresa in her «House of the Dying» in Calcutta.

In 1960 his first book was published, «They Call Me the Bacon Priest.»

In 1962 Father Werenfried attended the Second Vatican Council as an expert. He met 60 bishops from the Iron Curtain countries who were directly or indirectly receiving help from Aid to the Church in Need.

In 1965, during the Simba Uprising, Father Werenfried visited the Belgian Congo. A year later, together with a Belgian nun, Mother Hadewych, he founded the Daughters of the Resurrection, a religious community open to young African women with no formal education.

In 1969 he published the book «Where God Weeps.»

In 1964 Father Werenfried was appointed by Pope Paul VI as moderator-general of Aid to the Church in Need. In 1981, at age 68, he resigned this post but continued to write his «Mirror» newsletter and remained as founder and spiritual director to the organization, with special rights.

In 1981 Father Werenfried was awarded the German Federal Service Cross. He was also given special recognition in the Netherlands and Austria.

After the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Father Werenfried helped promote better relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.

See www.kirche-in-not.org for more details.

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