Today marks 9 years since the passing of Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, a member of our Order and a canon first of Tongerlo and latterly of St. Michael’s, Orange, perhaps the most well-known Norbertine of modern times. Philipp van Straaten was born in the Netherlands in 1913 and entered the abbey of Tongerlo, Belgium in 1934 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1940. At the abbey he was made secretary to the abbot, but it was for his work with the displaced German civilians following the Second World War that he would become widely known. In 1947 Fr. Werenfried wrote an article appealing for help for these displaced refugees who were being held in various camps in the now Allied-occupied Germany and other parts of Europe. The response to Fr. Werenfried’s article was surprising, not only because it was surprisingly generous, but because this generosity was directed to a people which had been the enemy only a few years before. The donations consistly largly of donated food, especially meat – earning Fr. Werenfried the nickname by which he would be known ever after – the Spekpater ‘the Bacon Priest’.
This initial appeal eventually led to the formation of ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ a charity which exists to help the Church and people in areas where it is most abandoned and in need. Fr. Werenfried’s work extended all over the world – especially reaching those Christians who were persecuted by the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Asia. Aid to the Church in Need was also instrumental in aid programmes in war-torn Africa as well as the Middle East.
Fr. Werenfried published a number of books about his work – many of them available in English and a number of works also exist about the life and work of this great and generous Norbertine, available from Aid to the Church in Need.