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Charity's 'bacon priest' founder dies

Dutch-born Norbertine Fr Werenfried van Straaten, founder of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, died of natural causes on Friday at the age of 90.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano called him an "untiring witness of charity."

The priest was hospitalised in Bad Soden, Germany, on Thursday and died early the next morning, exactly two weeks after participating in a special 17 January Mass marking his 90th birthday.

"Fr Werenfried's name meant 'Fighter for Peace'," said the charity's Australian director Phillip Collignon. "His whole priestly life was dedicated to helping refugees and the Church wherever its members where persecuted, threatened or menaced."

Mr Collignon said Fr Werenfried unashamedly called himself a "beggar for God".

"With his old battered hat, the adventure in charity he started in 1947 has raised and given away more than $A5.11 billion," he said.

Fr van Straaten's 1947 efforts to collect food for homeless refugees in Germany after World War II earned him the nickname the "Bacon Priest", but his focus soon shifted to raising money and collecting religious literature for the Catholic communities suffering or outlawed under the communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

"While studying for the priesthood he scored rather poorly in a Theology exam," said Mr Collignon. "His professor suggested that he should strive for higher marks next time round. 'How many marks'? Werenfried asked. 'Twenty out of twenty', answered the professor. The next exam Werenfried scored a perfect 20/20 and scribbled on the bottom of the page: "10 will do, the rest is for the poor".

Fr van Straaten entered the Norbertine order in 1934 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1940.

Catholic News Service/Aid to the Church in Need (Australia)

The Army of Father Werenfried van Straaten - A life lived for love (Aid to the Church in Need)
In memory of Father Werenfried van Straaten O.Praem. (Aid to the Church in Need)
Obituary: Father Werenfried van Straaten (Aid to the Church in Need)
Fr Werenfried: 'the most irresistable mendicant preacher of our times' (Independent Catholic News)
Aid to the Church in Need (Australia)
Aid To The Church In Need (International)

3 Feb 2003