BY SCO Admin | December 27 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


The man who founded Mary’s Meals on Faith in Our Lady

Started in a shed in Argyll, Mary’s Meals has a simple recipe for changing the world, Daniel Harkins learns as he speaks to Magnus MacFarlane Barrow

There is perhaps no better example of the strength and value of the Scottish Catholic community than Mary’s Meals. Driven by a strong Catholic Faith, the charity’s founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow has built a global organisation that feeds more than one million children across the world. And it all started in a shed in Argyll next to a Catholic house of prayer.

When you speak to Mr MacFarlane-Barrow, it is obvious that Our Lady is a driving force behind his character and his work.


A product of pilgrimage

Mary’s Meals was born out of a pilgrimage the founder made to the Marian shrine in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a teenager. On his return, inspired by the visit, his family set-up the Craig Lodge House of Prayer in Dalmally. When the Bosnian War began in the mid-1990s, Mr MacFarlane-Barrow, watching the horror unfold on TV, decided to load a Land Rover full of aid and drive it to Medjugorje.

The Scottish International Relief fund was soon established as the donations continued to flood in, and the charity evolved into the global feeding and education programme it is today.

“We were a devout Catholic family when we went to Medjugorje but the experience there really changed us and renewed our Catholic Faith,” Mr MacFarlane-Barrow said.

“It is hard to put into words. It was about an experience of God’s grace and of finding a new appreciation for God. The Faith that we witnessed there and the Faith of the people there, going to Mass every day, made a big impact. There is a huge example of Faith and love in that little village.”


Living witness of the Church

Mr MacFarlane-Barrow has watched as Medjugorje grew from a small village during his first visit to the second most popular Marian pilgrimage site in Europe.

He said: “One of my favourite things is going to a big youth event [in Medjugorje] that sees 40-50,000 young people from across the world gather.

“It is not always the easiest of times to be a young Catholic, so to see that, that living witness of the Church, is incredible.”

Like Medjugorje, Craig Lodge—a ‘wee Medjugorje in Scotland’—has been a big part of the history of Mary’s Meals. Mr MacFarlane-Barrow said it is important to keep the Catholic ethos at Craig Lodge as part of Mary’s Meals work.

“Mary’s Meals has a very different mission—it is for people of all faiths and no faith, and yet it is work that belongs to our Blessed Mother and we do it in our Faith.

“The way we do our work in Mary’s Meals is as important as the end result. And Catholic Social Teaching informs the way we do it. My role today is about helping all of us live up to those values.”

Mary’s Meals relies, now as in its infancy, on help from its grassroots supporters in Scotland.

We can be guilty in this country of being too focused on the central belt where most of our organisations, and the bulk of the Church population, is located. But Mary’s Meals is a success story for the more remote areas of Scotland, and the charity still has its international HQ in Dalmally.

It was there that Mary’s Meals’ Double the Love campaign was launched a few weeks ago.


Aid Match

The campaign is backed by the UK government, meaning that every donation to the charity until March 1 will be doubled by the Department for International Development.

The charity chose to launch its campaign not in the media-friendly cities of Scotland, but in the small town of Dalmally where it all started.

“I’m biased because I’m from Argyll but right from the beginning people here have helped us,” the charity’s founder said. “I love it deeply and I love the people of Argyll.”

The affection is mutual, and Catholics in Scotland tend to respond with great enthusiasm to Mary’s Meals and their campaigning efforts.

The pages of this newspaper are filled regularly with stories of parishes and schools filling backpacks up with supplies to be sent across the world.


Public reaction

Jacqueline Nelson, a teacher at St Andrews and St Bride’s High School in East Kilbride, said the charity’s ‘fairytale’ story catches her pupils’ imagination—as does Mr MacFarlane-Barrow’s own history.

“The kids love the fact that Magnus is Scottish, that he is humble and that he radiates kindness,” she said.

“Through him they see that anything is possible, that the vision of one person can change the lives of millions and this gives our kids hope that they are capable of doing the same.

“Mary’s Meals makes our kids want to be the very best versions of themselves—to help others, to love them, to care for them, and it brings them so much joy doing so.

“I also adore the fact that they are doing all of this work in the name of, and love for, Jesus’ mother. In a world where so many are quick to dismiss their religion, those involved in Mary’s Meals actively celebrate their Catholic Faith.”


Young people

Pupils at the school said they loved the fact that the charity has its roots in Scotland.

Katie and Rachael, S3 and S1 pupils, said: “Magnus is so kind because he always thanks people for helping and this really encourages us to spread the little acts of love that he talks about and they know that they can really help change the world.”

Part of this success is as a result of the Mary’s Meals message, which is brilliant in its simplicity. By feeding children in schools, the charity ensures young people get an education—and with that education they can go on to change their communities and countries.

“That’s why people love Mary’s Meals—it is such a simple idea,” Mr MacFarlane-Barrow said.

That simple approach, however, has brought criticism of Mary’s Meals, with some arguing that their strategy is not focused enough on building sustainable structures.

Mr MacFarlane-Barrow rejects that view. “The whole point of Mary’s Meals is that we are feeding children and helping them receive an education,” he said.

“We can also work long-term but we can’t do anything until starving children are fed.”


Inspiring story

The Mary’s Meals founder, who is now CEO, is not the only Scottish Catholic to have started with a small plan to help others, only to watch that seed grow into huge, life-changing projects.

The SCO has covered a number of inspiring similar stories of Scots Catholics, often young men and women, who have started charities that go on to help thousands in far away countries.

Mr MacFarlane-Barrow’s advice to any young Catholics today with an idea and desire to help others is to realise that ‘God has a plan for everyone.’

“Never underestimate your own importance,” he said. “God’s plan for every one of us is unique and God needs every one of us to participate.”

But he adds: “If you have beautiful plans to change the world, that’s great—but don’t necessarily think you have to do something massive.

“You can start with something that’s right in front of you, something small—maybe the person in your own family who needs help.”

Speaking of his own journey, he said he had ‘no idea why God has asked me to do this.’

“I don’t have any unique skills to do it. We rely on the people around us, and we’ve been lucky to always have that help from others.”

When asked what the key behind Mary’s Meals success has been, he said it is ‘maybe that simplicity of the message.’

“It’s that effectiveness,” he said. “And maybe that’s a hallmark of Our Lady. She raised her own child in difficult circumstances. [The Holy Family] were refugees themselves. And we often look to that for our own values.”

  • For more information on the Double The Love appeal, and to find out how to get involved, visit:



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