A place of warm friendships

Our founder Magnus shares an update about a recent trip to France, and some of the wonderful people 

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow
Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow
Mary's Meals founder and CEO

Back to all stories | Posted on 19 Jun 2018 in Update from Magnus

As I travel on the bus from Charles de Gaulle airport, I feel a bit nervous. Paris is new to me, and I don’t know anyone here. I’m here for three reasons: I’ve been invited to speak at an annual Medjugorje conference in the city, Mary Meals France has just been registered as our latest National Affiliate by some amazing volunteers, and my book is being launched in French. As some famous Parisian landmarks start to appear, I hope inwardly that I will remember the names of all the people I’m about to meet – and hopefully, at least a few words of my limited schoolboy French.  

I can hear singing floating out of the little church as I arrive. On entering, the first thing I see is the Mary’s Meals table with piles of our leaflets and my book in French. I am warmly hugged by Virginia, who has worked so hard to set up Mary’s Meals France, and Annie, who has made it possible for the book to be published and for me to attend this conference.  

The next few hours are a flurry of encounters with lots of people. A young lady called Eli introduces herself and says she is very surprised to meet me here. She explains that she is a Mary’s Meals volunteer speaker in London. She has come to this event as a member of the choir and had no idea that some of her Mary’s Meals co-workers were also here! She is originally from Barcelona, as is Virginia, and I leave the two of them chatting about how the ‘volunteer speaker’ or ‘community ambassador programme’ works in London, and how it might help us spread the word of Mary’s Meals in France. 

Then, a man from the choir asks for a photograph with me. He explains that he’s a teacher from Tuzla in central Bosnia, and that kids at his school are busy fundraising for Mary’s Meals. I feel a wave of emotion at the thought of this – Tuzla is a town I have not been back to since the days when war raged there, and tens of thousands of traumatised refugees were camped around it. I could not ever have imaged then, amid that horror, that I would one day be having this conversation in a church in Paris. Thank you to the children of Tuzla!  

Paris is no longer feeling like a place of strangers.  

The next day is a blur of media interviews, organised brilliantly by the publisher of the book. I have another nervous moment when I find myself in a TV studio set up for a chat show, with a tiny speaker in my ear so I can hear a translation of the host’s questions.  I have a horrible flashback to a live TV show I once did in Italy, where the exuberant host made his introduction to the camera, the studio audience clapped and then he turned to me and posed the first question in Italian. Only silence entered my ear where I should have been hearing a translation. And I’m there just pointing daftly at my ear with an inane grin on my face.  

Anyway, thankfully this time it all worked. On my way out of the studio, I say hello to the next guest – an elderly priest from Haiti. When I ask him from where, I can’t believe it when he says Hinche – the town in which we are based in the Central Plateau and from which we feed thousands of hungry children every day. It turns out he knows our friends and partners there very well and has devoted his life to setting up schools for the poorest children in that area. We hurriedly swap contact details and promise to meet when I next visit his country. 

As the bus crawls through rush hour traffic towards the airport and home, I am thinking how very small Mary’s Meals makes the world feel. It never stops weaving a beautiful web of relationships – between Barcelona, Tuzla, Hinche, London, Medjugorje, Dalmally and across the span of many years too.  

The Shed That Fed A Million Children is out now