FR WERENFRIED - A LIFE, by Joanna Bogle
(Gracewing, 2001, 151 pp, $39.95. Available from AD Books)
This short, well-written biography by well-known British Catholic writer Joanna Bogle tells the story of Fr Werenfried van Straaten, a Norbertine monk who founded and has, since 1947, tirelessly directed the international Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need.
Fr Werenfried was born Philip Johannes Hendrick van Straaten on 11 January 1913, the second son of Evert and Catharina van Straaten, in the Netherlands. In 1934 he sensed a religious vocation and joined the Norbertines at Tongerlo Abbey in Belgium, taking the religious name Werenfried, and was ordained to the priesthood on 25 July 1940.
Soon after the end of the Second World War, in the wake of the forced relocation of 16 million Germans from former eastern German regions such as Pomerania and Silesia to the west, the Holy See asked the abbey of Tongerlo for assistance. The task was assigned to Fr Werenfried and thus Aid to the Church in Need commenced. Initially, charitable works focussed on supporting the German refugees and their priests, including a seminary established for dislocated seminarians at Konigstein. Fr Werenfried soon earned himself the nickname "the bacon priest", from the donations of bacon made by Flemish farmers' wives.
Fr Werenfried's work soon expanded to include assistance to Catholics behind the Iron Curtain. For years he remained one of the few voices in the West to fearlessly expose the misery wrought by communism. Aid to the Church in Need also began to assist communities in the Third world.
Fr Werenfried has remained uncompromisingly loyal to the Magisterium. In the turmoil from the late 1960s onwards, Aid to the Church in Need's magazine Mirror has supported Catholic teaching and provided solace for many concerned Catholics. And when the message of Fatima was downplayed, Fr Werenfried remained a firm advocate.
Other publications, such as catechisms and prayer books, have been distributed, not only to assist those in communist and Third World countries, but also to bolster the faith of those in the West. Recent publications have included the attractive I Believe: A Little Catholic Catechism.
With the fall of communism have come new opportunities and challenges, with Aid to the Church in Need able to distribute material assistance and religious items far more easily. A major recent initiative has been to provide support for the Orthodox in Russia, including floating boat chapels along the River Volga.
Michael E. Daniel teaches at a Melbourne independent secondary school.