North American Basque Organizations
  A federation of organizations to sustain BASQUE culture


  Izan ziralako, gara, eta garalako izango dira  
"Because they were, we are, and because we are they will be"
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ño Nuevo!

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ël et
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The ending of an era:  Basque chaplains in the United States

Idoya Salaburu Urruty By: Idoya Salaburu Urruty
> Related link: Aita Tillous

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 N.A.B.O.

Aita Martxel 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 Elgarrekin Basque 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.




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