Life and Soul

Saint of the week: Barnabas (June 11)

Dedicated to poverty
St Barnabas was a missionary and companion of St Paul. He is usually identified as the cousin of St Mark the Evangelist. He was a Jew who was born in Cyprus and originally named Joseph. Dedicated to poverty, he sold his property and all his land and gave the profits to the Apostles, who named him Barnabas (“son of encouragement”).

After selling his property, Barnabas decided to live with other Christian converts in Jerusalem and persuaded them to accept Paul as a disciple. Barnabas went as a missionary to Antioch and Syria to establish Christian communities there and took Paul with him.

He then went on a mission to Cyprus, with John Mark, where they were so fiercely opposed by the Jewish community that they began to preach to the pagans. Barnabas’s story is featured in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul mentions him in the Epistles. They were missionary companions for a long time, but a rift developed over John Mark’s dedication to the mission.

It is thought that this breach was later healed. Benedict XVI said that the dispute between Paul and Barnabas was comforting. He explained: “There are also disputes, disagreements and controversies amongst the saints. And I find this very comforting because we see that the saints have not fallen from heaven – they are people like us who also have complicated problems.

“Holiness does not consist in never having sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and especially for reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Invoked against hailstorms

It is not clear when St Barnabas died, but tradition holds that he was martyred at Salamis in Cyprus in 61AD. The Cypriot Orthodox Church regards Barnabas as its founder. He is the patron saint of Cyprus and Antioch and is often invoked against hailstorms as a peacemaker.