Catholic Charities bears witness to Lenten mercy

Written by Mary McCusker
When Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Vatican in early March, he criticized Christians who self-righteously boast about fasting and feel superior to others. Focusing on the day’s first reading from the beginning of Isaiah 58, the pope said the corporal works of mercy are the kind of fasting God wants most.

“When you share your bread with someone who is hungry, invite into your home someone who doesn’t have one or is a migrant, when you look for clothing for someone who is without — when you focus on that, you are truly fasting,” he said.

Staff members of Catholic Charities have witnessed these very acts of mercy throughout Lent from across the Diocese of Camden, starting with the underwear and sock drive organized by the agency’s Prison Ministry.

Sister Mary Cronin, Catholic Charities’ Prison Ministry coordinator, regularly visits the men and women who are behind bars. During a visit to one of the facilities, a social worker told her that there was a great need for these specific clothing items.

“Often times, the incarcerated are given a jumpsuit — and nothing to wear under it. So many inmates have no family, friends or money to supply them with these basic and essential clothing items. It’s an affront to their human dignity,” Sister Mary Cronin explained.

She recalled concerns she had at the beginning of the drive. “Would people be willing to give to those who are in jail or prison? What if no one donates and I have nothing to bring to the prisons?”

Her concerns were put at ease when, just a week after the drive was announced, hundreds of donations began piling up.

She explained, “The donations came from all over. Parishioners dropped off large boxes and bags, and people from every corner of the diocese mailed in large donations. Checks came in from out of state. We even received one from California!”

These monetary donations, she explained, are used to purchase the requested items. So when a check was given to Catholic Charities for the drive, another staff member, Sister Mary Matthew Labunski, headed to a Walmart. While piling up large stacks of underwear and socks at the register, the cashier, she said, asked about them. When Sister Mary Matthew Labunski told her about the drive, the cashier looked at her, paused and said “They never did that for me” before continuing to scan the items.

Sister Cronin, indicating the boxes and bags which had piled up in her cubicle, said, “The last time there was a pick-up from the jail, this was empty. And I felt lonely without being surrounded by so much underwear!”

She continued, “But just a minute later, I got a call from the receptionist saying that a man was here at our building with several bags of donations, so this area wasn’t empty for long. The response has been absolutely overwhelming.”

As the underwear and sock drive came to a close, another began — the Seventh Annual Diocesan FaithFULL Food Drive.

Each year, the drive aims to restock local food pantries across Southern New Jersey, including those at Catholic Charities, during the months following the holidays when the shelves tend to be empty.

Across the diocese, parishes and schools have been collecting non-perishable items which will be distributed to those who are food-insecure, meaning that they do not know where their next meal will come from. In South Jersey, that number is one in six people (and one in five children). All items will be collected this Sunday, April 7.

For information about the FaithFULL Food Drive this Sunday, April 7, including requested food items and a list of drop-off locations, visit:

For information about Catholic Charities’ Prison Ministry, visit: