In October 2004, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow and his sister Ruth Black came to Medjugorje with a group of pilgrims from Scotland. Visnja Spajic spoke with them for Radio “Mir” Medjugorje.
Inspired by Our Lady’s apparitions in Medjugorje, the MacFarlane-Barrow family from Scotland founded the retreat centre “Craig Lodge House” and the “Craig Lodge Community” (http://www.craiglodge.org), as well as the Humanitarian Organisation “Scottish International Relief” and the project called “Mary’s Meals”, which is providing daily meals for school children in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America (http://www.sircharity.org).
Višnja Spajić: Dear Magnus, dear Ruth, you are much more than just pilgrims. You are believers who have shown their faith through their works. Can you tell us more about it?
Ruth Black: We first came to Medjugorje just after Christmas 1982, because we read something in our newspaper in Scotland. It was literally one line that said that Our Lady was appearing to children in Herzegovina. There was not even the name of the village in the newspaper that we read. We were always very interested in Lourdes and Fatima, and when we read that these apparitions were happening now, we immediately had a great desire to go and see for ourselves. We persuaded our parents to let us go. There were ten of us in that group: two of my brothers, my cousins, myself… We came here, and I believed from the very first moment that we got here. We arrived just in time for the evening Mass. The faith of the people was so obvious that we knew: everything was true. Those days, there were not very many visitors, so Fr. Slavko took us to stay with his sister and her family. Her children were similar in age to ourselves, so we heard the story of Medjugorje from them. They were such hospitable and honest people, and their witness helped us even more to believe. That visit touched our hearts very deeply and changed our lives. We were filled with a great confirmation about the reality of our faith, the reality of heaven, of hell, of all these things. Although this world is beautiful, it is not all that there is. We took that home with us.
What happened then?
Magnus: Our parents were very amazed when we returned from that fist trip, because they could see a big change in us: we were saying the rosary every night, we were fasting... Like many people, we were thinking that these apparitions would last for a very short time, so we wanted them to come as soon as possible, and they did. They were moved just like us, and one day, they decided to give their hotel to God and make out of it a retreat centre. We began inviting people from all over Scotland to tell them about the messages of Medjugorje. The diocese is very supportive. We have the Blessed Sacrament in the house, there is Mass every Sunday, and we have lots of different people who come to lead retreats. Fr. Slavko and Marija, the visionary, came many years ago. We also lead retreats as a family, as a community.
What are the fruits of these retreats now?
Magnus: Many of those who came on retreat began prayer groups in their own parishes. Many came to Medjugorje to experience for themselves. Slowly, over the years, a small community of people came together who want to walk the path, that Our Lady is inviting us to walk. There is group of us that are living there with our families; some single people come to live during one year in the community, serving those who come on retreats. We are trying to walk this path together now.
You also founded a humanitarian organisation, the «Scottish International Relief»…
Magnus: We never planned it. In 1992, when we saw people suffering here, we just felt moved to try and bring one lorry of aid for the Medjugorje refugees. We asked people who were coming to our retreat house to give us basic things, like clothes, food and medicine, and we drove them here. Then we returned home, thinking that it was the end of that work, but God had a completely different plan! By the time we got home to Scotland, lots of things have been given to us. We decided to keep on going as long as people gave us things. Someone gave us a big lorry, and I began driving back and forth. We were taking medicines to Mostar, and to different places in Bosnia that were suffering at that time. Since we began, we have delivered over 10 million pounds worth of aid to the Eastern Europe. We felt moved to begin to help in other countries also: in Rumania, we work with HIV positive children that are abandoned by their parents, we do a lot of work in Africa and Latin America also.
“Mary’s Meals” are providing 11000 daily meals for children. Is it easy?
Magnus: In many ways it is easy. “Mary’s Meals” is Our Lady’s project from the outset and she is looking after it. It began in 2002, during the famine in Malawi, when we just began offering daily meals in schools to 200 orphans. With Our Lady’s help, we are now feeding 11000 children every day. People are helping, especially for the “Mary’s meals”. At the moment, we can feed a child in Malawi for an entire school year for about 10 dollars. People help in many different ways; it is not just giving money. A very important part of Mary’s Meals is that all the work in Malawi is done by local volunteers. The work of “Mary’s Meals” is lots of little acts of love. I am very lucky because we can go and meet the people we are helping. It is my job very often to bring that thanks to all those who are doing so much in Scotland, in America, in Australia, in New Zealand… Recently, we met a typical family benefiting from “Mary’s Meals”: a woman on her own, bringing up four children. “Mary’s Meals” that they receive in the school nearby are the only meals they receive in the whole day. Before that, children were unable to go to school because they had to help their mother. We can only give what we receive from God. First of all comes prayer, living the life of the Church, and then we are able to give. We never chose to do this. We have been called to do this work in a particular way. We are thankful to God to involve us in a small way in his plan.
Ruth: We live as a part of a praying community, so whenever we are away, like when we are visiting Malawi, other members of our community, and our family members, are at home; they are all praying and interceding for us, and we get a huge strength from that. It is a huge privilege to work in this way and to serve the poor in the small way that we do, and I continuously give thanks to God for that.
What means your faith, the Gospel, and Medjugorje for you?
Magnus: Our faith, the Gospel and Medjugorje are at the centre of our life, of our family life. It is the most important thing in our life. The starting point for everything that we do is to pray and to try living Our Lady’s messages. It is not about going out and doing things, but doing what Our Lady asks every day. Then, perhaps, God will call us to do other things.
At the age of 36 or 42, with 4 and 5 children, are you unusual families?
Ruth: Yes, we are considered as completely unusual! In Scotland, only a very small percentage of people are Catholic. We were being brought up as a catholic family. Perhaps we were used to being out of step with the rest of our friends. My husband was part of the group that came to Medjugorje and we always wanted to have a large family.
Magnus: I met my wife when I was driving humanitarian aid during the war, and she shares my faith also. We didn’t decide to have children to be an example. We have children out of love. In the small village where we live, families had 2 children or less, but I have noticed that now, there are several families that have 4 – 5 children. I think that some of them have been given the courage to do that through seeing the example of Ruth’s family.
How do you see the family in the future?
Ruth: It is very helpful to be members of a praying community. The family life is under a lot of pressure. Children are bombarded all the time by messages from the media that are contrary to what our faith is teaching us. I see more and more the importance of living in a community with likeminded people. Perhaps especially at the time when children don’t want to listen to their parents, they are able to get the same message form the people that they respect within the community. Prayer is the key.
Magnus: There is nothing more important than praying together every day as a family.