Priest Who Aided Germans After WWII Dies

Werenfried van Straaten, a Dutch priest who gathered donations for needy Germans after World War II and founded a charity to support the Roman Catholic church around the world, has died. He was 90.

Van Straaten died Friday in a hospital near Frankfurt, according to the Aid to the Church in Need charity. The cause of death was not released.

Born Jan. 17, 1913, in Mijdrecht, near Amsterdam, van Straaten broke off training to become a teacher to enter the Norbertine abbey in Tongerlo, Belgium, in 1934. He worked as secretary to the abbott.

Appalled at the human suffering of World War II, he began appealing to people in Belgium and the Netherlands, which had themselves suffered under German occupation, to help millions of ethnic Germans expelled from eastern Europe after Adolf Hitler's defeat.

That drive to collect food, clothing and medical supplies led to the formation of Aid to the Church in Need, which today supports church activities in more than 100 countries, and claims up to 700,000 benefactors.

After the war, van Straaten raised funds to buy shoes and later motorbikes to enable refugee priests to visit members of their communities scattered across Germany and Austria.

Following the 1956 uprising in Hungary, the Frankfurt-based charity also funneled aid to the Catholic Church there and in other communist countries, where authorities sought to restrict the church's activities.

Van Straaten also traveled widely in Africa and Asia, helping to found monasteries and other church projects.

Following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, he campaigned for reconciliation between Christians in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Details of funeral arrangements were not immediately available.