On Feb. 2, four SUVs pulled up to the Camden office of Catholic Charities. Their arrival was unexpected, and the occupants were strangers to the Catholic Charities staff.
The four men had driven from Brooklyn, New York and Basking Ridge, N.J. They had come bearing gifts. Their vehicles were filled with new blankets, pillows, baby supplies, clothes, small appliances, fans, bicycles and classroom supplies.
The leader of this caravan was Dr. Mohammed Ali Chaudry, co-founder and president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, president of the Branchburg Rotary Foundation, and former mayor of Bernards Township — the first Pakistani-born mayor in America.
“I heard about what you do here,” said Chaudry as he helped unload the donations from his car, “and I knew I had to help.”
Despite the several-hours drive, Chaudry enthusiastically greeted Catholic Charities staff and the ESL (English as a Second Language) students — many of whom are immigrants themselves.
A highly-influential community leader, author, professor, and businessman, Chaudry has centered his life’s work on service to others and building bridges of understanding among various cultures and religions. His efforts extend to helping the hungry, the homeless and veterans in need, among others. He is a member, often serving in positions of leadership, of several interfaith organizations of Christians, Jews and Muslims in New Jersey.
“It’s a core belief in our religion, and many other religions, that we must care for each other, especially the most vulnerable and those who need help the most. That’s what I’ve heard about Catholic Charities and that’s what I see here,” he added. “And that’s why we came here today.”
Chaudry had heard about Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, from a fellow member of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. On learning of the good work being done by Catholic Charities in the South Jersey area, Chaudry sent out several requests to his network of community contacts for donations.
“They responded immediately —Muslims, Christians, Jews, people of all faiths who I work with. And they also responded eagerly with offers to drive the donations to Catholic Charities, saying, ‘Give me the address and we’ll be there.’”
Chaudry explained that he teaches a course at Rutgers about understanding the fundamentals of Islam.
“While there are certainly differences between Islam and Christianity, I explain to my students that there are far more commonalities than differences. Both of our faiths emphasize caring for your neighbor. Love God, and love your neighbor.” he said.
“So next week,” he said with a smile, “we’ll be back to drop off more.”
Catholic Charities is supported by the House of Charity.