On Friday January 5 our country was shocked at the abrupt demise of Bishop Emanuel Barbara OFM Cap. Who was this great bishop who evangelised with his actions?
Bishop Emanuel Barbara OFM Cap was born on the 27 October 1949 in Gzira, Malta. After hearing and assenting to God’s calling he joined the Capuchins as a novice on September 19, 1965. On 26 September of the following year he made his temporary profession and immediately began his academic formation for the ministerial priesthood. After seven years of studies, Fr Emanuel was ordained deacon on August 5 1973 and a priest on July 20 1974 at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta.
After his ordination, Fr Emanuel served in various ministries within the Maltese Capuchin Province. From 1974 to 1976 he served as a vicar priest at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in San Gwann. His intellectual capabilities encouraged his superiors to send him to study at the Academia Alfonsiana in Rome. From here Fr Emanuel obtained a licentiate in moral theology.
Upon returning to Malta, Fr Emanuel taught moral theology at the INSERM (National Inѕtitutum Studiorum Ecclesiaѕticorum Religiosorum Melitensium) for 13 years. He was also Rector of the same institute from 1981 to 1983. Three years earlier, from 1978 to 1980, the Capuchin Province entrusted him the hospital chaplaincy ministry at St. Luke’s Hospital. From 1980 till 1983 he served as the guardian of the Capuchin fraternity at Xemxija. Simultaneously he lectured at the Gozo major seminary. In 1983 he was elected Provincial Minister of the Maltese Capuchin Province and served as Provincial Minister till 1989. Between 1984-89 Fr Emanuel was the first Capuchin chaplain of the Malta Police Corps.
Faithfully adhering to Jesus’ authoritative words to Peter: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke5:4), Fr Barbara answered a call within a call in his life, namely that of being a missionary. Thus he left everything and followed Jesus Christ in Kenya, where the Maltese Capuchins had their mission for a number of years.
From 1990-1992 he was a formation director in Langata (Nairobi) and taught moral theology at Tangaza College. Between 1992-94 he studied once again at the Academia Alfonsiana in Rome whence he obtained a doctorate in moral theology. On his return to Kenya, he resumed his teaching ministry at Tangaza College in Nairobi for the next five years.
At the 1996 Vice-Province of Kenya Chapter, Fr Emanuel was elected as the first Vice Provincial for three years. Between 1999 and 2008, he continued to minister in Kenya as a professor of moral theology at the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) in Nairobi.
After his return to Malta in 2008, Fr Emanuel formed part of the capuchin fraternity at Kalkara and served as the spiritual director of St. Francis Secondary School, Sliema. Concurrently, he was actively involved in the ongoing formation of foreign nuns living in Malta. During the 2010 Provincial Chapter, he was once again elected as Provincial Minister of the Maltese Capuchin Province. In May 2011, Fr Emanuel was elected President of the European Capuchin Conference (CENOC).
On July 9 2011 he was nominated Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Malindi by Pope Benedict XVI, thereby succeeding Bishop Francis Baldacchino OFMCap, the firѕt bishop of the same diocese. His episcopal ordination took place in Malindi on the 1 October 2011 by John Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi together with the Archbishop of Mombasa, Boniface Lele and Bishop Martin Kivuva of the Machakos Diocese. On November 11 2011 he celebrated a thanksgiving mass at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta.
From 1 November 2013 till 9 December 2014, Bishop Barbara was the Apostolic Administrator of Mombasa Archdiocese after the see fell vacant due to Archbishop Boniface Lele’s resignation. Bishop Emanuel Barbara OFM Cap served faithfully as the bishop of the Malindi Diocese until he was called to the Father’s home on 5 January 2018.
Bishop Barbara’s life enfleshed Pope Francis’ vision on for bishops: “May bishops be shepherds, close to the people; fathers and brothers, may they be gentle, patient and merciful; may they love poverty, interior poverty, as freedom for the Lord, and exterior poverty, as well as simplicity and a modest lifestyle; may they not have the mind-set of ‘princes’”.