Werenfried van Straaten was born on January 17, 1913, in Mijdrecht,
near Amsterdam, Holland. A teacher’s son, he began studying classical
philology at the University of Utrecht, in 1932, before entering the
Norbertine Abbey of Tongerlo in Belgium.
Following a bout of tuberculosis, it was feared that he might not be
up to the rigours of pastoral or missionary work, but he was nevertheless
allowed to remain at the abbey, working as the Abbot’s secretary. As
such, he was also responsible for editing the abbey newsletter "Toren"
It was at Christmas 1947 that Werenfried wrote an article entitled "Peace
on Earth? No Room at the Inn". The article contained a vibrant appeal
for help for the 14 million homeless Germans, expelled from the Eastern
territories, 6 million of whom were Catholics. The response of the Flemish
was beyond all expectations and marked the beginning of “Ostpriesterhilfe”
(Help for Eastern Priests).
In those post-war years, the country folk in Flanders were more likely
to have reserves of pork in the house than money. So Father Werenfried
started collecting food to at least ease the hunger of the refugees.
He collected so much that he was soon nicknamed the “Bacon Priest”.
The sickly young novice of 1934 had turned into a brilliant organizer,
powerful public speaker and highly successful popular missionary, never
tiring of begging to support his life’s work. To the point that since
the end of the 1940s, his biography and the history of the charity are
one and the same.
Let us recall a few highlights, such as the creation of The Mirror,
which is now published in seven languages with a print run of 700,000,
and the books “They Call Me the Bacon Priest” and “Where God Weeps”.
Let us also mention his encounters with famous representatives of the
suffering Church, Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary, Mother Teresa in “The
House of the Dying” in Calcutta, and numerous other people in Africa,
South America and Asia.
In line with his appeal for reconciliation with the “enemies of yesterday”,
back in 1947, he undertook in 1992 an effort to aid the Orthodox sister
Church and promote better relations with these estranged brethren. He
has been preaching since to help overcome the schism in the Church that
has lasted between East and West since 1054. Little wonder that, against
the doctor’s advice, he made a point of accompanying the Holy Father
to Ukraine a few months ago.
Father Werenfried handed over the helm of the charity to his collaborators
when his health failed him, but he never left. To his very last days,
he wrote in the Mirror whenever his declining forces allowed him.
Fr. Werenfried died January
Only two weeks before, friends,
relatives and ACN representives had celebrated his 90th birthday. As
presents, he was offered hats to highlight his constant begging for
God with his old hat of millions and a piglet to remind
everybody how it all started, more than 50 years ago.
Goodbye, dear Bacon Priest!
Photo: Andrzej Polec
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