LONDON — It began with two men working in the fishing industry in Scotland. Magnus McFarlane-Barrow and his brother Fergus had good jobs and were happy in their work. Their Catholic family life was happy, too — following an inspiration on a pilgrimage, their parents had opened their home as a “House of Prayer,” offering hospitality to many visitors.
Then seeing news of the suffering caused by the war in Bosnia in the 1990s changed everything for Magnus and Fergus. Wanting to help, they invited people to donate food and clothing, took a week off from work and drove a truckload of goods to the stricken area for distribution.
Things grew from there. The charity they founded, initially called Scottish Catholic Relief, is now named “Mary’s Meals” and feeds more than a million children every week in some of the poorest parts of the world.
It’s all funded by donations, and it works by bringing people together so that children can be fed at school. In an impoverished African village, Magnus met a woman dying of AIDS whose only wish was that someone would take care of her six children. Magnus asked her oldest boy, Edward, what his hope in life was, and he answered that he would like to be able to eat every day and go to school.
Mary’s Meals brings together local people in projects to grow and gather food, cook meals, and get nutrition to schools so that children eat a good meal.
In February, Magnus McFarlane-Barrow was invited to London to receive the Westminster Award, presented annually at the House of Lords as an initiative of Lord David Alton and supported by the pro-life group Right to Life. The Westminster Award honors those who work for “human life, human rights and human dignity” and was established in 2013 in memory of pro-life campaigner Phyllis Bowman, who had died the previous year.
Presenting the award, Lord Alton said, “Magnus saves lives, believing that, from the womb to the tomb, we must honor, respect and uphold the sanctity and worth of every human life. He’s incredibly inspiring, and we can all learn a lot from him.”
Minister of Parliament Fiona Bruce, chairwoman of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, described Mary’s Meals as “a triumph of humane and compassionate moral endeavor.”
Named in honor of Christ’s mother, Mary’s Meals works with people of all faiths and none, and it has proved to be a powerful force for neighborliness and goodwill, both in the places where the meals are grown and cooked and served, and in the places where volunteers spread information and raise funds, too.
The award ceremony took place in one of the House of Lords’ large, paneled committee rooms overlooking the Thames, with portraits of Parliamentary grandees gazing down on the proceedings — all a long way from the African village where Mary’s Meals began. Magnus McFarlane-Barrow described how he recently had a reunion with Edward, the boy whose plight had so touched him. Edward is now married with children of his own, and the family is flourishing.
“Mary’s Meals is not only about feeding children — it is about offering them an education,” he explained. “You cannot learn if you are hungry. We work through schools, and children know that they will get a good meal there and can also apply themselves to study, to build a future.”