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Apezak: Basque chaplains in America

 

Our Current Basque Chaplain Aita Antton

Aita AnttonAita Antton Egiguren Iraola, a priest of the Franciscan order arrived on November 28th to begin his ministry as a Basque chaplain here in the Basque-American community. His official position in the Diocese of Boise is as Parochial Vicar at St. John's Cathedral, where he assists at the parish. He has also been asked to provide pastoral and sacramental attention to the Basque community in the surrounding region and this will be his priority. His focus will be on liturgy, Christian formation and spirituality, and outreach (Diaconia) to all Basque Catholics, especially the elderly and their families and those in need. For more information including weekly scriptural commentaries, visit: www.basquecatholic.org.

 

Past Basque Chaplains

For many years we were fortunate to have had the service of these dedicated priests who spent long hours and drove long distances to minister to our various communities.

Related link: Basque-English Mass material | Eulogy for Aita Etcheverry | Eulogy for Aita Tillous | Farewell Letter from Aita Tillous | Bertsoak for Aita Martxel

Rev. Patxi Aldasoro Aita Challet Aita Copentipy Aita Sallaberremborde
Aita Aldasoro
Aita Challet
Aita Copentipy
Aita Sallaberremborde
Aita Cachenaut Aita Elicagaray Aita Etcheverry Aita Tillous
Aita Cachenaut
Aita Elicagaray
Aita Etcheverry
Aita Tillous

This story originally appeared in the Reno festival booklet "Renoko Astenagusia"

Basque people have been traditionally Catholic, and Catholicism is present in much of Basque traditions both in the Old and New World. The fact that Old World Basques are almost all Roman Catholics, as are most of their New World-born descendants, provides an additional difference between the Basques and some other ethnic groups. The Basque language also plays an important role in their religious lives.

According to William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao in Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World in some areas of the West such as Jordan Valley, Oregon, Volta and Fullerton, California, and Elko and Gardnerville, Nevada, there is evidence that Basques were instrumental in erecting the first local Catholic churches. There is also a persistence and appeal of the practice of importing Old World-Basque clergymen to minister to the Basques of the American West.

It was 1910 when bishop R G. Glorieux of Idaho wrote to the bishop of Vitoria-Gasteiz, in the Basque Country, asking for a Basque priest for his diocese. Father Bernardo Arregui, from Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, arrived in Boise in 1911 to serve the Basques in Idaho. He was the first priest to arrive in the U.S. with this particular mission: to serve the spiritual needs of the Basques in the Basque language.

After Father Arregui, Father Patxi Aldasoro Iparraguire from Mutiloa, Gipuzkoa, arrived in Boise in 1954 to serve as chaplain for the Basques, which he did for five years. He visited the sheepherders in the mountains, celebrated mass, and heard their confessions. He also served Basques in Boise and other urban areas.

After Aldasoro, two other priests from the Basque Country arrived in Idaho: Father Santos Recalde from Bizkaia, author of Deunor, Euskal Artzaiak Ameriketan in which he describes some aspects of the Basque life experienced in America, and Father Juan Mari Garatea, who is from Lekeitio, Bizkaia, and the last chaplain. When the sheep industry declined in Idaho, the Basque chaplain appointments also ended.

At the same time, with sponsorship from the diocese of Fresno, California, and the Basque diocese of Baiona, the Golden State became another focal point for the reappearance of Basque chaplains in the States. Father Jean Leon Luro, from Ahatsa, Benafarroa, arrived in California in 1961 to serve the Basques in the surrounding areas. After serving three years, Father Jean Challet, from Hazparne, Lapurdi, took his place until he was replaced six years later in 1970 by Father Guillaume Copentipy, from Milafranga, Lapurdi.

Father Jacques Sallaberremborde, from Altzuruku, Zuberoa, followed him and was the first to relocate to San Francisco, which continues to be the official residence for Basque chaplains. In 1977 Father Jean-Pierre Cachenaut arrived from Iholdi, Benafarroa. Father Cachenaut spent more than eight years in the States and during that time he gained fame as an extraordinary and tireless driver. He was an energetic chaplain who visited every Basque settlement from California to Montana, from New Mexico to Washington state, and even as far east as New York.

In 1986 Father Cachenaut returned to the Basque Country and was then replaced by Father Jean-Pierre Etcheverry from Heleta, Benafarroa. Father Etcheverry returned to the Basque Country in 1989.

After a two-year period without a chaplain, Father Jean Elicagaray, from Buzunaritze, Benafarroa, arrived in San Francisco in 1991 to fill the void. By this time Basque Americans had not only grown accustomed to the Basque chaplains but also cherished having one in the States.

These priests were sorely missed, not only because of the lack of a Basque mass at festivals, or the spiritual guidance they provided, but also because for many they soon became regarded as family members. The absence of the Basque chaplain from 1989 to 1991 did not go unnoticed. After three years, Father Elicagaray went back to his current parish in Donapaleu, Benafarroa. Father Martxel Tillous from Ezkiula, Zuberoa, replaced him in 1994 as the last Basque chaplain until his death in 2009.

We cannot express enough how much the work of these individuals has meant to all of us. We appreciate not only the spiritual guidance that they have provided, but also their work in the perpetuation of the Basque culture in the United States, and most of all we appreciate very much their friendship. It has been said that the Basques are people of few words, but when they speak it is from the heart. This being so, we thank you and will never forget the sacrifices you have made for us and the time that you shared with us.

GOIAN BEGO:  Eulogy for Aita Etcheverry

Haurride maiteak,                                   Jean Pierre Etcheverry ren ehortz mezan 13/03/2006

Aita Etcheverry Ez da sekula errex adixkide bati azken agur egitea, are gutiago apez adixkide bati. Jean Pierren joaiteak zinez pena handian gaitu sartzen. Egun Aguerriako  etxetiar guzieri dut lehenago pentsatzen. Nola ezti dezakegu Ama baten dolumina bere seme maitea, seme apeza itzaltzen delarik ? Panpili ez dago geiago zuen artean izanen Amari, anaieri, koinateri, loberi kuraia emateko. Bai etxeko apeza itzali da. Bainan ez da itzali etxeko fedearen argia ez eta etxetiarren otoitza.                       

Jean Pierrek ez du besterik predikatu eman dituen ehorzketa meza guzietan. Han eta hemen izan da Jesus Piztuaren mezulari. Bazuen manera, bazituen bihotzeko hitzak oroitarazteko bidea ez dela heriotzean finitzen. Bazakin  penetan eta dolutan zirenen bihotzetan  argia pizten Jainkoaren izenean.

Gaur, Jean Pierre ixilik datza bere sort Herriko eta bataioko Elizaren erdian, eta hemen gira Etcheverry familiaren inguruan numbre handian herri guzietatik jinak bai eta Ameriketatik, laiko, apez eta apezpiku. Ez gira hemen heriotzaren ospatzeko baizik eta Jean Pierren bizia omentzeko. Negu beltzaren erdian jalgi dira primaderako lehen liliak, eta zuhaitz batzu hasi zauzkigu lorez estaltzen. Ber gisan heriotzako neguaren erdian bada primadera bat joan zauzkigun guzientzat.

Bizia ! Naturaren bizia, Etxeko bizia, Herriaren bizia, Parropiaren Bizia, Elizaren bizia…Bizia da konda, aintzina doan bidea da konda. Lili txikiek ematen diote neguari sentsua. Berpiztearen Argiak dio kurutzeari ematen norabidea.

Tabor mendi kaxko gainean, hiru apostoluek ikusi zuten Jesus argiz beterik antzaldatua. Egun hortan Jesusek abiatu zuen bere Pasionaren bidea. Panpilik aski egina izan du Pasionaren bidea.  Kurutze bidea ezagutu du, ixtripu larriak,  9  azken illabeteak erietxetan, osagarria emeki emeki galdurik. Bere izaitean sofritu du, gizon gisa eta apez gisa. Bazuen esperantza berriz bere apez tokia hartuko zuela gure Elizan. Ote ditu behar zituen laguntzak atxeman ?  

Kurutze bide hortan Jesusi lotu da eta Jesus Jean Pierri. Egiazko  apez izan da hain segur  meza emaiten zuelarik Amarekin ospitaleko gelan bainan ere kurutze bidean aintzina ari zelarik !

Bai Jean Pierre, Pasioanaren bidetik Bazko Argirat ! Gaur etorri zaitzu Baigura mendia baino gorago joaiteko orena. Gaur Jesusek zaitu xutik emaiten eta antzaldatzen. Jesus adixkideak zaitu bere eskua luzatzen eta bere argiz betetzen.Baionako Elizaren zerbitzari ona izan zira 35 urtez. Ainitz jende dituzu lagundu ; zure dohain ederrak baliatuz, mila esku kolpe eskaini. Jesusek eman zitzaitzun apeztasunaren grazia. Jesusi jarraikia bizi izan zira,  harekin zira ere orain pizten. Eta momentu berian, zu zira orain Aita maitearen eta etxekoen arteko zubi eta bitartekari bilakatzen.

Txoriak hasi zaizkigu goizetan Biziari Kantari. Entzuten zaitugu zure boz ederrez loriatzen zeruko portuan atxemaiten dituzun guziak. Sinesten dugu sartzen zirela Kristo anaiarekin goiko aberrian, zorionez eta bakez beterik den etxean. Ez, Jean Pierre ez zira arras itzali ! Ez du heriotzak azken hitza ! Zure begi urdin finak gaur zerua dute miresten . Zure obra on guziak Bazko argiz dira dirdiratzen, zeruko eta lur huntako primaderan. Amen

Chers amis,

aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous dans la peine et le deuil. Nous avons perdu un ami, un compagnon de route, un prêtre, un pasteur. Jean Pierre, Panpili, Ganich, Mr le curé ou Mr l’abbé…Qu’importe l’appellation ! Le départ de Jean Pierre, chacune et chacun le ressent profondément à la mesure de l’amitié qu’il avait su susciter.

Nous sommes venus  à son village natal et à l’église de son baptême pour nous unir à la famille Etcheverry, tout spécialement à sa chère maman, ses frères, neveux et nièces. Jean Pierre a aimé passionément sa famille, cette terre, la vie de Hélette, Besta Berri,  la foire de Santa Catalina, les grands moments de la vie de Aguerria. Il partageait les joies et les réussites agricoles de Sauveur et de toute la famille ; mais aussi les peines des uns et des autres, se montrant toujours très sensible quand l’un des siens était malade ou qu’il venait à mourir, comme ce fut le cas récemment pour sa belle soeur. « A nos soucis et à nos merci », aimait il dire à chaque messe.

Il a puisé dans sa famille la fierté d’être basque et d’être ouvert au monde, le plaisir de jouer à la pelote, de chanter, de vivre les valeurs si belles de convivialité et de cordialité. A cela il faut ajouter une valeur essentielle, la foi, la piété, l’amitié avec Jésus Christ, l’amour d’une Eglise simple, chaleureuse, fraternelle, à visage humain.

L’ayant bien connu au Petit Séminaire d’Ustaritz, au Collège St François Xavier, je peux dire que Panpili était un des meilleurs élèves, doué en tout, doté d’une intelligence vive, d’une  grande capacité pour apprendre. Il était brillant en classe, brillant à la pelote, brillant à la chorale.

Comme le garçon de la multiplication des pains, il a mis ses talents au service de l’Eglise et du Royaume de Dieu. A une époque controversée, en plein tournant de Mai 1968, au lendemain de ce magnifique printemps que fut le concile Vatican 2, il reste fidèle à sa vocation sacerdotale et est ordonné prêtre à 25 ans, le 28 Juin  1970.    

En ce jeune,  la sève sacerdotale va grandir et fleurir au fur et à mesure des responsabilités confiées par son évêque et au fur et à mesure de son engagement au cœur des réalités humaines. Le jeune pelotari qui avait les qualités requises pour devenir un vrai champion  se révèlera sur les canchas de l’église, sur les lieux de mission en particulier avec les jeunes de Cantau et de la Villa Pia. Son souci : éclairer les consciences, faire connaître des témoins, partager la foi en Jésus Christ tout en respectant la culture et la vie contemporaine des jeunes. La force de Jean Pierre était sa carte de relations ; connu de beaucoup, il connaissait beaucoup de témoins de notre temps.

A Paris durant son temps d’aumônier des basques, il devient un intime de journalistes au stage réalisé à Antenne 2, dont Noel Copin, qui deviendra  directeur de La Croix. Jean Pierre était aussi à l’aise avec Mgr Marty qu’avec Georges Marchais. Fort de cette expérience et de sa formation théologique à l’Institut Catholique de Toulouse,  il organise des conférences-débats au Centre de Culture Religieuse de Bayonne qu’il anime de 1981 à 1986.

Sur les routes de Californie, Idaho, du Texas et des divers Etats d’Amérique, il ne compte ni les kms, ni l’énergie pour rejoindre les familles de basques émigrés, vivre des temps forts de prière et des temps de rassemblements festifs comme les célèbres Pic Nic. Il restera toujours fidèle à ces familles basques d’Amérique.

De retour au diocèse, il accepte la responsabilité d’aumônier diocésain du Mouvement Chrétien des Retraités. Nommé curé à Bardos et Labastide Clairance  d’abord, puis à Ciboure-Zokoa, excellent animateur, il mettra un soin particulier à concocter de magnifiques kermesses souvent d’ailleurs avec l’aide très appréciée de son frère Michel et de son orchestre. Quelle messe exceptionnelle, celle  animée par les  acteurs de la Fête Dieu de Hélette, danseurs et musiciens qui à la demande de Jean Pierre étaient venus à Ciboure pour la fête de la Bixintxo !

C’est donc à Ciboure-Zokoa que j’ai retrouvé l’ami de la jeunesse. Il a été un pasteur au bon cœur, un prêtre proche du peuple, l’ami de tous, s’étant adapté à la mentalité des cibouriens et des zokotars et à celle des pêcheurs, célébrant l’eucharistie et diffusant l’Evangile, avec toujours une bonne dose d’humanité, de spiritualité, d’humour, de souci de l’éveil des laics.

 Avant de quitter Ciboure, il m’a demandé « Crois tu que j’ai fait du bon travail à Ciboure ? » Je lui ai répondu : « tu as aimé et tu es aimé ! L’essentiel c’est ce qu’on a semé dans le cœur des personnes. Pars en paix ! Ce que tu as semé fleurira ! » Un pasteur, en effet,  c’est celui qui rassemble pour la liturgie mais aussi celui qui veille sur chacun et en particulier sur les malades et les plus pauvres économiquement. Plusieurs témoignages émanant de Laguntza, de Denen Etxea et d’organismes caritatifs rappellent l’aide précieuse et discrète qu’il a su prodiguer aux uns et aux autres.

C’est à Ciboure que commence aussi pour lui malheureusement son chemin de croix ! Deux accidents graves sur la chaussée qui le laissent sérieusement handicapé, puis la maladie qui l’a miné peu à peu. Malgré cela il est resté fidèle au poste assurant le labeur quotidien de tout curé de paroisse jusqu’à son départ à Toulouse. Depuis 9 mois il s’est battu puisant dans la prière et l’eucharistie la force spirituelle, recevant le soutien sans faille de sa chère maman, de ses frères et de quelques amis.

C’est à la lumière de Pâques que je vous invite à regarder désormais le visage de notre cher Panpili, appelé lui aussi à être transfiguré. La lumière du Mt Thabor illumine la passion et la mort de Jésus. La transfiguration  annonce que tout chemin de croix aboutit à la lumière de Pâques. Comme dit Paul : « Jésus Christ est ressuscité, il est à la droite du Père et il intercède pour nous. »

Après le chemin de croix, c’est donc l’heure de la lumière pour Panpili. Lui qui a accompagné des milliers de gens lors des obsèques, des baptêmes, des mariages durant ses 35 années de service de l’église, c’est à son tour d’entendre ces belles paroles de notre Père à tous : « Jean Pierre, tu es mon fils bien aimé. En toi j’ai mis tout mon amour ! ».

Il nous quitte pour rejoindre son cher Aita, pour aller chanter avec lui et avec celles et ceux qui l’accueillent. Merci du fond du coeur Jean Pierre pour ton humanité. Merci aussi pour ton coeur de bon pasteur et ton âme sacerdotale, pour l’aide que tu as portée aux laics des paroisses que tu as animées, pour le soutien donné aussi à la Mission de la Mer.  Sois enfin dans la  paix et dans la Joie totale.

Pardon pour le soutien que tu n’as peut être pas reçu, autant que tu l’aurais souhaité, au moment où tu en avais le plus besoin. Aimons les prêtres, aimons-les chacun avec ce qu’il est et ce qu’il apporte ; aimons-les surtout dans les moments difficiles de leur vie. Oui, aimons nous, respectons nous  les uns les autres, c’est la clé de tout :« C’est à l’amour que vous avez les uns pour les autres que tous reconnaîtrons que vous êtes mes  disciples », nous dit Jésus Christ qui intercède pour nous tous et qui nous invite à l’espérance active dans l’Eglise et dans le monde. Amen              

Mikel Epalza

Eulogy for Aita Martxel Tillous: Goian Bego -- R.I.P.

Aita TillousThe following is adapted from an earlier tribute to Aita Tillous by NABO; in 2002 he was presented NABO's "Bizi Emankorra" or lifetime contribution award. He served as Basque chaplain since 1994 until cancer would not let him continue any longer. He left the world in 2009. GOIAN BEGO--R.I.P.

Related links: Farewell letter from Aita Tillous | San Francisco tribute booklet (pdf)

Martxel Tillous was born in 1934 in the Basque town of Eskiula in Xiberoa. Following his calling he entered the priesthood and began work as a missionary for 26 years in Africa . Returning to Europe he served four years as the Basque chaplain for the Basque community of Paris from where he came to the United States to serve as chaplain of Basque-Americans since 1994, until he could no longer continue because of the onset of cancer.

It turned out that Aita Martxel was the last in a line of earlier Basque chaplains. His ministry as chaplain to the Basques of the United States had him criss-crossing the country averaging 60,000 miles a year! He usually spent 200 nights a year sleeping in his van—with the license plate "Pottoka"—as he traveled from his base in San Francisco, California to the scattered Basque communities of eleven states of the American West. All of this to serve the spiritual needs of Basque-Americans—from celebrating mass in the Basque language to baptizing, marrying Basque couples and consoling us at funerals.

In 2002 our chaplain from Zuberoa was recognized by NABO with its "Bizi Emankorra" or Lifetime Contribution award, for both his spiritual and cultural contributions. An avid txistulari, Aita Martxel was often seen and heard playing this ancient Basque flute (or its variation the xirula). He served as the txistu instructor at NABOs annual Udaleku-Music Camp (Basque Cultural Summer Camp) for youth for most all his years with us. After a Basque picnic meal he was always there to join in a sing-along or to help encourage the formation of new Basque cultural venture. He also started a newsletter ("Lokarria") that goes out to thousands of Basque-American families and thus further assisting efforts to bring our community closer together.

NABO salutes Aita Martxel's self-less dedication to his tasks and we consider ourselves fortunate to have been blessed with his presence among us. Esker mila Aita Martxel!

"He was a quiet, unassuming, gentle, holy man. When people these days get discouraged with their priests and don't feel that they are practicing what they preach, all they would have to do is look at the wonderful example that Aita Tillous gave to us. He lived for years and years in Africa helping the poor; he traded in his apartment for a little room in the Euskal Etxea of San Francisco to be close to the people; he drove thousands of miles to share in the most important days of many families' lives; he took time to teach children the gift of music; and he sang like God himself was coming through his lungs. He was such a good man and such a great example of what a priest can be." --Astero reader

Aita Tillous Bizi EmankorraBeing honored in 2008 by the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center; applauding left is Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the Lehendakari of the Autonomous Basque Government of Euskadi.

 

 

Aita TillousTo carry on the good work with Basque youth in his name, NABO founded the
"Aita Martxel Tillous" NABO Youth Aid Fund in his honor. This was started this year to help provide financial aid--when money becomes the biggest obstacle--for Basque youth to participate in Basque programs.

Aita TillousAfter 14 years, tens of thousands of miles driving, and hundreds of masses as our Basque-American chaplain, Aita Martxel's last NABO Convention Basque mass in August 2008 in Chino, CA.


 

Bertsoak for Aita Martxel

San Frantziskotik trixte kantuz nahiz hasi
Marzel zure berri daute helarazi
Neure baitan halere ezin dut sinetsi
Mundutik joateko gaituzula utzi.

Ipar Amerikan zuk egin dituzunak
Beti gure laguntzen gau eta egunak
Galde hau entzun otoi zeruko Jaun onak
Ordaintzen-hal dazkotzu guk zor dazkogunak.

Senditzen dituztanak ezin erran elhez
Anai bat izan zaitut Marzel anitz urtez
Begirik hetsi gabe hasten naiz nigarrez
Maite zaitudalakotz gogo 'ta bhhotzez.

--Johnny Kurutxet


Something to consider if you'd like to donate in his memory could be the "Aita Martxel Tillous" NABO Youth Aid Fund. This was started this year to help provide financial aid--when money becomes the biggest obstacle--for Basque youth to participate in Basque programs.


Farewell Letter from Aita Martxel Tillous

Dear Friends,

In spite of the distances, the end of the year festivities gives us the occasion to get closer together to one another even more than usual and be assured that you are all present in my heart and prayers.

To you all, a joyous Christmas and may the most cherished wishes that you keep in the bottom of your heart come true in the new year.

My illness is progressing slowly, but without doubt, surely.  I am waiting in faith and serenity for the day that will take me on the big trip toward the Lord—whenever He wants.  My life is in His hands.  Thank you for all your prayers and the friendship you keep on showing me.

During all the years I have spent among you, I have so many times had the occasion to appreciate your hospitality, your sympathy, and your friendship while sharing a meal, a night or several nights.  The life of a Basque Chaplain is not always easy.  First of all, you have to like solitude with all the time spent on those long freeways of the American West.  You have been like those bright and warm stars in the middle of those freezing nights.

When Monsignor Moleres, Bishop of Bayonne, visited us six years ago he said, “It looks like your houses are meant for welcoming.”  So many times I have had the opportunity to experience it.  I would like to thank the Basque Cultural Center of San Francisco, in particular, for having offered me hospitality and financial support during more than ten years.  Thank you, also, to other clubs for their support:  San Francisco Basque Club, Marin Sonoma Basque Club, Kern County Basque Club, Chino Basque Club, Ventura Basque Club, Utah Basque Club, Wyoming Basque Club, Montana Basque Club and so many more who, individually, supported me financially because, as you know, the Basque Chaplain has not received any help from his diocese of origin nor from any American diocese.

I leave it to the Lord to thank you all in the way that He sees fit.  He will do it much better than I could.  To you all, again, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

With warmest hugs to all,
Aita Martxel


 

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