By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
Fr. Joshua Maria del Barrio, currently working in Binga, Hwange Diocese, was on 11 October 2023 crowned with the imposition of the decoration of the Order of Isabel the Catholic, with the degree of Officer’s Cross by the Ambassador of Spain, Natividad Isabel Peña Bonilla. Fr. Del Barrio who was accompanied by Bishop Emeritus of Hwange, Albert Serrano and Fr. Alphonce Trujilo, received recognition for his humanitarian contribution to the people of Hwange and Binga where he worked for more than 50 years.
The Ambassador of Spain, Natividad Isabel Peña Bonilla, said Fr. Del Barrio, who comes from Spain, was given this important insignia to honour the life of service and dedication he has lived as a missionary in Zimbabwe.
The honour is given in the name H.M. the King of Spain, Felipe VI, I.
“Ceremonies like today’s are an act of public recognition. Today, we celebrate the life of Father Joshua Maria del Barrio in Zimbabwe, a life that can hardly be separated from the priestly ministry because, in the case of religious people, life and profession merge into one,” highlighted the Spanish Ambassador.
Fr. Del Barrio was ordained a priest on July 9, 1967 and he dedicated his life to the most disadvantaged, poor and sick ones. In Binga, the priest helped many people to realise the value of education by paying school fees for them while he supported many poor families with food and other day-to-day needs. He also facilitated the provision of health and hygiene among the Tonga people.
“With exceptional dedication and enthusiasm, Father José María has lived for Zimbabweans since he first arrived in the country in 1972, more than 50 years ago. Therefore, it can be said that this country has been and still is his home, his “other home”, as close to his heart as the Castilla where he was born. But living far from Spain never kept him away from it and, thus, as Coordinator of the Spanish Institute of Foreign Missions (IEME) since 1967, Father Jesús María has maintained his firm commitment to the Spanish missionaries in Zimbabwe, without ceasing to exercise his Christian evangelizing work with the most depressed communities in the country.
From Binga, where he has resided since 1975 and from where he directs the Tusimpe Center, Father Jesús María is an example of faith, love, generosity, dedication and selfless dedication to others whose public recognition, before all of you, fills me with joy,” said Ambassador Bonilla.
The Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spanish: Orden de Isabel la Católica) is a Spanish civil order and honour granted to persons and institutions in recognition of their extraordinary services to the homeland, or the promotion of international relations and cooperation with other nations. The Order is open to both Spaniards and foreigners.
The Order was created in 1815 by King Ferdinand VII in honour of Queen Isabella I with the intent of “rewarding the firm allegiance to Spain and the merits of Spanish citizens and foreigners in good standing with the Nation and especially in those exceptional services provided. The Order of Isabella the Catholic is the de facto highest civil honour granted by the Kingdom of Spain.
Ambassador Bonilla stated that Father Jesús Maria clearly deserves this recognition and, together with her predecessors, decided to grant it to him.