Barnabas is not a very common name, and I can assure you it wouldn’t be one of my top choices, yet in the first century there was a very important man who was known by this name. The fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles introduces a contemporary of the apostles, ”Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”).
“Son of encouragement” – now that’s a title worth having! Maybe the name “Barnabas” is not so bad after all. To encourage means “to give support, confidence, or hope to (someone).” Biblical scholars often note that Barnabas trusted and faithfully supported Paul as a new believer and later on in his missionary work.
There is no way of knowing whether Barnabas visited Magdala in his lifetime, but without doubt his spirit is present today in Magdala in the person of Father Eamon Kelly, LC. Born and raised in Ireland, Fr. Kelly was ordained a Catholic priest 32 years ago and has been a passionate encourager and supporter of Magdala almost from the very beginning.
Even if they don’t remember his name, numerous guides and pilgrims come asking for the tall priest that gave the tour, for the Irish priest, for the one who has a great sense of humor… you know, the one who jokes around with his handshake. Another head pokes in at the sacristy door…” Is Father Kelly here?”
Why the constant stream of people looking for this priest? He is a man who knows how to make connections, a man who builds bridges and relationships faster than anyone, a man who believes in reconciliation (and not just the kind that happens in a confessional). He lives out the core vision of Magdala: to become a premier catalyst for worldwide renewal and reconciliation. Magdala, a crossroads of Jewish and Christian history, is also a site of meaningful encounter: encounter between Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Arab, Orthodox and secular, tourist and pilgrim, women and men. Fr. Kelly is not afraid of these encounters. He is not afraid to bring people together… he is not afraid to encourage them in the path of reconciliation.
In some way or with someone, we all need to be reconciled.