Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, is a Pontifical charity whose mission is to provide assistance to Catholics wherever the Church suffers from poverty or persecution.
Over the last 70 years, the international charity has grown to include offices in 23 countries worldwide, including one in Canada. Together, we collect funds from benefactors allowing us to support on average 6,000 projects in more than 140 countries. Our mission is to provide aid to the Church in need through the three-fold action of: praying, informing and giving.
Aid to the Church in Need was founded in 1947 as “Ostpriesterhilfe” in Tongerlo Abbey, Belgium, when its founder Father Werenfried van Straaten launched an aid initiative to help the 14 million people expelled from East Germany, while appealing for reconciliation with the “enemies of yesterday.”
The Mission Flourishes
In no time, the movement shifted its scope to encompass the oppressed Church behind the Iron Curtain. It also diversified its activities to come to the aid of seminarians, to create Chapels on Wheels, to rebuild churches and build shelters for the needy. The foundation of a national office in Königstein, Germany in 1956, was soon followed by an additional national office in Austria.
From this point onward the charity began to flourish and to assist refugees from Asia, to South America as well as the Eastern-rite Catholic Church of Ukraine. In 1964, the charity was taken over by the Holy See and its international head office moved to Rome. In 1969, the current name, Aid to the Church in Need, was adopted. And in 1975, while remaining under direct Papal authority, the head office or International Secretariat settled in Königstein, Germany.
Growth continued with the creation of national offices in many Western countries. In 1984, the charity was established as a Universal Public Association under Papal Jurisdiction. In early 2012, the charity was elevated to the status of Pontifical Foundation. It now consists of 20 national offices in as many countries, including Canada.
With the downfall of communist systems in Eastern and Central Europe, support was directed to the Eastern-rite Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches that had long survived underground. In 1992, a wide-range new aid program was launched for the re-evangelization of Eastern Europe and the countries of the new Russian Federation.
Over 600,000 Benefactors Worldwide
Today, ACN is a global community of over 600,000 friends and benefactors who support approximately 5,000 projects each year in over 145 countries worldwide. In 2010, the volume of donations rose to more than $110 million Canadian dollars for local churches in need – bringing its total figure to over 3 billion Canadian dollars. ACN benefactors are accompanied by 17 national offices in Europe, North and South America, as well as Australia. Its founder, who left us in 2003, contributed to the work as much as his delicate health would permit, until the very end. He gave thanks to God on a daily basis for this phenomenal success. He once said: “Humanly speaking, this Work is a mystery!”
For a more detailed history, please consult the ACN International website.