During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has encouraged the lay faithful to reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One such charity that is doing precisely that is Mary’s Meals, which was founded in the north of Scotland after the Bosnian War in 1992.
Vatican Radio’s Ryan Black spoke with the founder of the charity ahead of a meeting with Pope Francis. He also spoke to the Malawian Ambassador to the Holy See about the impact the charity is having in his country, and to the Executive Director of Mary’s Meals Italy.
The founder, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, was inspired by the people of the local community in Argyll following the War. He set up a local appeal and very quickly food, clothing, medicine and donations of money began to arrive at the family home. Magnus and his brother joined an aid convoy that delivered the goods to people in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They returned to find that the shed at their home had been filled with more donations. Magnus took a ‘gap year’ so that he could continue delivering aid until the donations stopped coming in, but they never did, and he never returned to his old job.
He spoke to Vatican Radio about the early days of the charity, then called Scottish International Relief. Following a family pilgrimage to Medjugorje in his childhood, he felt very close to the people who were suffering in the war.
The charity expanded over the next ten years, building homes for abandoned children in Romania and helping returning refugees in Liberia by setting up mobile clinics.
In 2002, while the charity was providing famine relief in Malawi, Magnus met a woman who was dying of AIDS. She was surrounded by her six children, and the woman said that all that was left for her to do was to pray that someone might look after her children. Magnus asked the eldest son what he hoped for in life, and the boy replied, “I want to have enough food to eat and to go to school one day.” The boy’s words helped inspire the founding of Mary’s Meals.
Today, Mary’s Meals feeds more than one million of the world’s poorest children every school day across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America. As a result, Mr MacFarlane-Barrow has achieved international renown. In 2015, TIME Magazine named him as one of the world’s top 100 most influential people.
He doesn’t believe that the work can stop just because they are feeding more than one million hungry children. He told Vatican Radio that the charity is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and that everything they do is offered to her. As a result, the Mary’s Meals family strives to act like a loving and practical mother, always concerned about her children.
Vatican Radio also spoke with Mr. Michael Barth Kamphambe Nkhoma, the Malawian Ambassador to the Holy See. When asked about the impact that the charity is having in his country, His Excellency explained that attendance at school is high because children know they will receive something to eat.
The Ambassador went on to thank those who support Mary’s Meals globally, including the thousands of volunteers in his own country. He asked supports to encourage their friends and family to help in whatever way they can.
Also present at the interview was Francesco Stefanini, the Executive Director of Mary’s Meals Italy. Recently, a benefactor donated a small office to the charity, allowing them to work in Rome. Being so close to the beating heart of the Universal Church, Mr Stefanini explained a little about the relationship the charity has with the Church. Recently, the Italian Conference of Bishops supported a new campaign in Malawi, donating 300,000 euros to the cause.
During a conversation with Magnus and Francesco last week, Pope Francis expressed great joy when he heard that Mary’s Meals is now providing a daily meal in school to more than 1.1 million of the world’s poorest children. The Holy Father said, “Onwards! Onwards! Onwards! May God bless your work.”
Following the meeting at the Vatican, Magnus said, “Those forceful words of Pope Francis, spoken from the depths of his heart, will remain forever a source of encouragement to me, and I hope for all of us in the Mary’s Meals family.“He urges us to go forward – always onwards towards that next hungry child waiting, towards this vision of ours that every child in the world might receive a meal every day in their place of education.
Pope Francis was gifted with a special copy of “The Shed That Fed A Million Children”, Magnus’ bestselling book which tells the extraordinary story of Mary’s Meals. The specially-bound edition, the first ever printed in the Pope’s native language of Spanish, bore the words ‘un regalo para el Papa Francisco’ on the cover – ‘a gift for Pope Francis’.
Mary’s Meals continues to feed children around the world every day at school. Their mission statement has not changed, but their efforts deserve recognition during this Jubilee of Mercy, when we are called to reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Not only is the charity doing just that, but it is also carrying out one of these fundamental acts on a daily basis, it feeds the hungry.