By John Heuertz
Special to the Catholic Key
KANSAS CITY – Why would anyone leave a comfortable life in the Scottish Highlands to spend his life feeding the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children?
Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow did it — but not by himself.
“It’s Our Lady’s work, and this is a bold claim to say,” he says. “But from the beginning we have asked Our Lady to intercede for us, and to show us how she wants this work done.”
MacFarlane, a 2010 Top Ten CNN Hero, is the founder of “Mary’s Meals,” an innovative program that feeds school children in poor nations at their place of education.
On the morning of September 24 he shared its remarkable story with parishioners and guests at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Kansas City.
It really started one day when Magnus was 14 years old and his older sister saw an interesting newspaper story about Medjugorje in Bosnia.
Magnus and his siblings had been raised in a devout Catholic family. “We wanted to see what was going on and our parents said to go ahead.”
Ten of them went to Medjugorje for a week that “really changed our lives. Mom and Dad went later and had a similar experience.”
Because of his experience, Magnus decided ten years later to drive a truckload of blankets back to Bosnia with his brother Fergus. The trip was to help people caught in the civil war there.
“But what was meant as one little appeal for aid snowballed. When we got back to Scotland, my father’s barns were filling up with donations.”
Fast forward another 10 years. By now Magnus had decided to quit his job – he and Fergus were salmon farmers – and devote his life to helping the poorest of the poor.
He was running health clinics in Africa and helping in Rumania in 2002 when a terrible famine struck the African nation of Malawi.
In Malawi he met a woman in her home named Emma. Emma was dying of AIDS, and her dying fear was that no one would take care of her six children.
“We talked to her oldest son, Edward, who was 14,” Magnus said. “At 14, what Edward wanted out of life was enough to eat and the chance to go to school someday.”
Thus “Mary’s Meals” was formed, and its Marian character has been there from the very beginning.
“We built Stations of the Cross and a Mary church for pilgrimage in Malawi,” he said. “Tens of thousands of Malawians come on Mary feasts to pray and do the stations.”
“Mary’s Meals” started with feeding 200 children in one village in one obscure African country. Today it feeds about 577,000 children a day in 16 countries on four continents.
It has made a long-term commitment to provide at least one good meal a day at the child’s place of education – whether it’s a school run by Catholics, Protestants or the local government.
This is an ongoing commitment, despite rising food prices and daily food distribution in some of the world’s most dangerous places, like Mogadishu in Somalia.
But local people always pitch in, because the program is received with joy wherever it goes.
“All this work depends on people making small donations,” Magnus says, and unpaid volunteers do nearly all of Mary’s Meals work.
As an example, over 60,000 people in Malawi get up every day at first light to light the fires and cook and distribute the children’s porridge — a nutritious blend of corn, soy, vitamins, minerals and a bit of sugar.
Magnus stresses that Mary’s Meals “is not about helpless people waiting passively for someone to help them. It’s about people walking together to do this beautiful work.”
“When we started they thought we were crazy,” he continues. “But the real madness is that 80,000 children will die from hunger-related causes around the world today, and 100 million are not in school today.”
“I look back on these years and it moves me a lot to see how Our Lady has always been with me. She is always there in one way or another,” he says.
“I believe that Mary’s Meals is becoming another sign to the world of God’s mercy and God’s love.”
Mary’s Meals can feed a child a nutritious meal every day of the year, anywhere in the world that it operates, for $15 a year or less. For more information, go to http://www.marysmealsusa.org. To donate, click on the Donations link and choose “KC Heartland.”