Our Mission and History

Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church, supporting the Catholic faithful and other Christians where they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.

Christian refugees in the Middle East (© Aid to the Church in Need)
Christian refugees in the Middle East (© Aid to the Church in Need)

As set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Charitable Company the objects of Aid to the Church in Need’s mission are:

  • to advance the Christian religion by supporting and promoting the Church, especially in countries where Christians are suffering persecution or discrimination;
  • to further the other charitable work of the Church by providing practical assistance and pastoral care for persons in need, especially those who are living in, or are refugees from, such countries.

Each year Aid to the Church in Need makes grants to help fund over 5,000 projects, primarily in the following areas:

  • provision of catechetical material and books
  • broadcasting the Faith
  • help with church buildings
  • support for the training of seminarians
  • grants for the formation of religious and catechists
  • subsidies for priests through grants and Mass stipends
  • emergency aid to refugees
  • provision of transport for those involved in the Church’s mission.

At the instigation of Pope Pius XII, the international organisation Aid to the Church in Need was founded by the Norbertine priest Father Werenfried van Straaten in 1947, when, that Christmas, he wrote an open letter, ‘No room at the inn’ highlighting the appalling situation facing post-war refugees.

The secretariat of Aid to the Church in Need International (also known as Kirche in Not/Ostpriesterhilfe) is based in Königstein, Germany, where annually over 5,000 projects throughout the world are coordinated and information material produced.

For more than 70 years, Aid to the Church in Need has reached out to the persecuted, the suffering and the poorest of the poor around the world.

Aid to the Church in Need came into being in 1947 when a young Norbertine priest, Father Werenfried van Straaten – whose name means “Warrior for Peace” – responded to an appeal for reconciliation made by Pope Pius XII in the bitter early years after World War II. He set out to organise emergency relief to meet the material and spiritual needs of the suffering German people.


Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need

With the help of thousands of concerned and compassionate people he more than succeeded. His impassioned preaching and calls for reconciliation touched hearts and supplies of clothes and food poured in – particularly sides of pork – earning him his nickname, the Bacon Priest.

At the same time, recognising a deep spiritual hunger, he launched a ‘Rucksack Priest’ campaign to send priests out on motorbikes and early Volkswagen Beetles to people still displaced, bereft and in need of spiritual comfort. This was soon followed by a Chapel Truck initiative using decommissioned army trucks which were adapted as mobile chapels from which Mass could be said.

Father Werenfried during one of his homilies at the chapel-truck.Father Werenfried during one of his homilies at the chapel-truck.

In the 1950s, Father Werenfried worked tirelessly to assist religious serving within Communist countries, especially in Hungary, to help contemplative Sisters in Poland and to launch a massive aid campaign. His passion and commitment helped Aid to the Church in Need to build “fortresses of God” – churches constructed along the length of the Iron Curtain. From this time onwards he began his drive to bring Christ not only to Russia and Eastern Europe, but to all those being “tested in faith” around the world. Aid to the Church in Need began to grow in size and scope.

Such has been the impact of Aid to the Church in Need’s work worldwide that in June 2002 the charity was described by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) as “a gift of Providence for our time”.

He stated that Aid to the Church in Need 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.”

During his pontificate, in December 2011, Benedict XVI recognised the importance of Aid to the Church in Need’s work by elevating the charity to a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church.

Thanks to the generous support of our Aid to the Church in Need family of faithful, Father Werenfried’s vision lives on.

Today, our General Secretariat and Project Headquarters is based in Königstein, Germany. With 23 national offices, 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 140 countries around the world.

Father Werenfried during a visit to the “Daughters of the Resurrection”

Father Werenfried’s inspirational and powerful charism is reflected in the Spiritual Guidelines which he wrote to guide the charity’s work. These are still one of the foundations our work.

Aid to the Church in Need’s mission is to make known the pastoral and spiritual needs of the faithful to Catholics and other Christians in the UK and around the world.

As well as supporting Christians who suffer for the Faith and are in pastoral need, we also encourage our benefactors to keep the Faith in an increasingly secularised and materialist world. Through Aid to the Church in Need we are linked together heart to heart, in a chain of faith, hope and charity across the world.

Father Werenfried van Straaten, the late Founder of Aid to the Church in Need, once said that our organisation was established to help the Church “wherever she is persecuted, threatened, undermined or destroyed and suffers need as a result”.

In his day the biggest challenge was the oppression of the Church behind the Iron Curtain, where communism tried to eradicate religious belief and replace it with atheism. In the USSR countless Christians were sent to the gulags and according to one estimate more than 20 million Christians died for refusing to renounce their faith.

With Christians suffering at the hands of anti-religious regimes, Fr Werenfried said that Aid to the Church in Need helps “through prayer, sacrifice, conversion, information and active charity to heal the wounds inflicted by atheism”. This work continues today in communist countries such as China, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Faith and Christian Love
The foundation of all our activities is Christian faith and love. This includes our fidelity to the Holy Father and adherence to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the fulfilment of this task Our Lady of Fatima is our Model, Mother, Advocate and Sign of Hope.

Pastoral Commitment
Our aim is a pastoral service in faithfulness to Aid to the Church in Need’s historical charism. Our way of evangelisation reaches out to the whole human person: body and soul. One might say we provide food for both hungry souls and empty stomachs. We strive to proclaim the Gospel “welcome or unwelcome” (2 Timothy 4:2).

We are committed to helping our beneficiaries through financing pastoral projects, and our benefactors through publications, talks and media work.

Regular prayer, personal and common, animates our daily work and strengthens our missionary spirit. It moves us to offer spiritual assistance to those who are suffering because of their loyalty to Christ and His Church.

Faithful to our historical roots, we serve to promote unity and reconciliation. In line with the vision of the Holy Father, we support initiatives in building unity with the Orthodox Church. We strive for a deeper unity with our benefactors by praying for their intentions, providing information and expressing gratitude on behalf of those they help.

As a bridge between benefactor and beneficiary, we fulfil our mission through humble and selfless service.

Human life is a sacred gift from God. We therefore sustain and defend the Culture of Life in all its dimensions. We promote the understanding of sexuality in the beauty of chaste human love and uphold married and family life as the basic cell of society. Aid to the Church in Need believes in the sanctity of human life, from the moment of conception to its natural end.

In Christian fellowship, we will animate and strengthen fruitful communication and dialogue among races, nations and communities. Within the organisation, we will build up and sustain solidarity through transparency and creative responsibility.

Our unshakeable trust in Divine Providence guiding us into the future fills us with hope and confidence and enables us to place trust in others and, in turn, to be trusted by them.

Aid to the Church in Need as a Pontifical Foundation

In December 2011, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI had elevated the international organisation Aid to the Church in Need, of which the British section is a part, to the status of Pontifical Foundation. Previously the organisation had been a Universal Public Association, whose revised decrees were approved by the Congregation of the Clergy on 10 December 1997 (Decree No.97003166, Vatican City).

At the same time, the Holy Father appointed the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, to the position of President of the Foundation.