From Eskiula, Xiberoa, Aita Martxel Tillous has been serving the
Roman Catholic Basques of the West for twelve years now. With his
green card soon to expire, the question always arises amongst the
Basques: Will we have another Basque priest?
Born in 1934 in the
small town of Eskiula in
Xiberoa, Aita Martxel Tillous was always actively participating in
the church activities of his hometown. After serving in the Algerian
war, he completed the seminary, studied at the university, and
became a priest. Soon after, at the age of 26, he went to serve the
people of Africa. Aita Tillous spent 26 years in the Ivory Coast,
helping the people build a better way of living, helping the sick,
and educating the youth. After this, he was assigned to be the
chaplain for the Basques of Paris. Once this assignment ended, he
went to serve the Basque American community. Although his home base
is in San Francisco, California, he travels about 60,000 miles a
year visiting the Basque communities scattered across the West. In
2002, Aita Martxel Tillous received the Lifetime Contribution "Bizi Emankorra" Award for the
promotion of Basque-American Heritage, presented by
Tillous has begun his 12th year of serving the Basque American
community performing religous services at the many Basque picnics,
baptisms, weddings, and funerals. He also heads the
Choir of San Francisco.
He spoke to EuskoSare about his experience in the United
States and about the future of a Basque chaplain.
What has your
experience as a Basque chaplain in the United States been like? Well, it was very difficult when I first came here. I loved Africa
and I wanted to be in Africa. I knew nobody here. There were very
few people from Xiberoa. Most Basques living here came from Bizkaia,
Nafarroa, Baxe Nafarroa, and Lapurdi; few from Gipuzkoa and Xiberoa.
Having spent so many years in Africa speaking the 4 languages that I
learned there, my Euskara was rusty. In addition to having to get to
know the community here, I had to relearn Euskara and learn English
alltogether. I spent the first three years in a very nice home, had
all the necessities, but was very lonely. I was so used to being in
constant interaction with people when I was in Africa. I then
understood what it must have been like for the many immigrants who
came here without knowing anybody or the language. I was ready to
leave until the Basque community approached me with the possibility
of living at the Basque Cultural Center of San Francisco. They told
me it was nothing fancy, just a small room and that the center could
be my home if I wanted it. I took the offer and have been living
here ever since.
Being here twelve years now, I have had the opportunity to get to
know many Basques from all over. I get along well with everyone and
have been fortunate enough to receive a tremendous amount of support
from the Basque American community.
How much longer
do you see yourself in the United States? Well, my greencard expires in 2008. I need to either get my
greencard renewed or become an American. But I am Euskalduna, so I
refuse to become American (laughs).
If you leave, do
you think another Basque priest will come to serve the Basque
American Community? Probably not. There are no priests in the Basque Country itself.
Last year alone, the seminary of Bayonne was closed because there
was no one attending.
How do you see the future of a Basque priest in the United
States? Well, I am investigating the possibility of having a Basque deacon
serve the Basque American community. A Basque deacon would be able
to participate very similarly as I do in mass. They would be able to
give sermons, communion, participate in weddings, baptisms, and
such. They just cannot consecrate the mass. A Basque deacon would be
able to lead the mass in the ancient language of Euskara which has
unified many Basque Americans for years. I am currently looking
further into this possibility.
the website of the North American Basque
Organizations, Inc. (N.A.B.O.) a federation of
organizations for the promotion of Basque
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Basque Autonomous Government of Euskadi.
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