By Lydia O’Kane
This year, the world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to spread unabated. However, despite restrictions and even lockdowns in many countries, it hasn’t stopped pilgrimages, from taking place, albeit virtually.
This year for the first time, the global school feeding charity Mary’s Meals will host its first virtual family pilgrimage.
Since 2017, members of the charity have been coming together to reflect, pray and offer thanks at the Marian Shrine in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the charity has its roots.
Although the programme will be in a virtual setting, those participating from around the world will join together to pray the Rosary in numerous languages.
“It was a bit difficult, very sad when we realized that we couldn’t do it [the pilgrimage] this year physically; and then my wife Julie started saying, 'Why don’t we just do it online?'" says Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, Founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals.
“At first I thought that it was a pretty crazy idea; I couldn’t really imagine a pilgrimage in which we didn’t physically travel somewhere, and then the more I thought about it, in this situation we’re all in, we thought, 'Why not?'”
He goes on to say that what they are most excited about right now is the Global Rosary, which will be recited by children from Africa and India and includes participation from Rome, Poland, Myanmar and Haiti.
Mr MacFarlane-Barrow also points out that there will be two languages representing the two ethnic groups in South Sudan who have had a history of conflict. “They will be reciting the Rosary together for peace,” he says.
The CEO notes that “the Daughter of Charity Sisters who are partners in Tigray in Ethiopia recorded their decade just before the fighting erupted in Tigray over the last days, and their prayer for peace just becomes even more poignant.”
During the weekend pilgrimage there will be opportunities to attend Holy Mass and Holy Hour online, streamed from St James’ Parish in Medjugorje, and to pray together and give thanks to Our Lady Queen of Peace.
The pilgrimage will also give people the chance to pray and fast on Friday November 13 in order to show solidarity with the 1.6 million hungry children who receive daily meals through the charity’s school feeding programmes.
Despite the fact that COVID-19 has wrought havoc on so many people’s lives, Mr MacFarlane-Barrow points out that “sometimes when we find a way through it - a way round it - it opens up new opportunities we wouldn’t have previously thought of.” He is keen to stress however, that although "the opportunities that new technology offers us are enormous and are a huge blessing,” nothing can replace human contact.
The CEO emphasizes the virtual pilgrimage is open to anyone who wants to join in prayer, regardless of faith background or any previous involvement in Mary’s Meals.
All those who would like to join the virtual Mary’s Meals family pilgrimage this year can find out more, and access the live stream, at www.marysmealsmedjugorje.org.
Mary’s Meals provides daily meals to children through school feeding programmes in 19 countries.
As schools return amid the global pandemic, “Mary’s Meals is working with local communities and trusted partners to reinstate school feeding where possible – and in line with local safety advice – while continuing with community distributions in places where schools remain closed.”