June 11 is the feast day of St. Barnabas. Here is how he is introduced in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 4:
With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
So Barnabas was a nickname for Joseph. He was a Levite, which means that he was descended from Levi, one of the sons of the patriarch Jacob. Members of this family traditionally served as assistants to the priests in the Temple. The name Barnabas is given in Greek (the Acts of the Apostles was written in Greek) but it evidently comes from Aramaic. The Aramaic original is not totally clear, but the author of Acts explains that it was meant to mean “son of encouragement” or someone who encourages others.
Joseph (Barnabas) was from Cyprus. This was significant later on. We learn in Acts chapter 11 that the first church missionaries preached only to Jews, but some (including some from Cyprus) preached to Greeks as well. This was going on particularly in Antioch, so the church leaders in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch, presumably to find out what was going on. Here is how the Book of Acts describes the situation:
News of this [conversion of Greeks] came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul [Paul], and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”
The Book of Acts goes on to relate that Barnabas and Paul were commissioned to go on a missionary journey, and the first place they visited was Cyprus. Barnabas is now considered the patron saint of Cyprus.
Barnabas was a good man, a faithful and effective evangelist, and he is a good person to remember all the year, but especially on June 11.