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Aita Antton Egiguren Iraola, a priest of the Franciscan order (OFM) arrived in America in November 2014. He came to help minister to the Basque-American community when he is able, since his full-time job is presently as a Parochial Vicar at a parish in the Diocese of Fresno in California.
Fr. Antton was born in the Basque Country on Dec. 7, 1953, in the baserri “Arretxea” in the town of Bidegoian just outside Tolosa, Gipuzkoa. In 1979 he took his final vows as a Franciscan monk, at the Franciscan Parish Church of Beasain (G), and then was ordained a priest the following year. Soon after he began many decades of missionary work that has taken him far and wide: ten years in Korea, and also 10 years in Thailand. Before coming here over the last 13 years he has been involved with teaching at Leuven Catholic University, while residing at the Franciscan Friary in the same city. From there, and during summer vacations, he traveled to Manila, Philippines, at different higher education institutions, as well as in China, where he taught courses on World Religions, History of Mission, Anthropology and Interreligious Dialogue. Wherever he has lived he ministered to the nearby Korean Catholic Communities, as well as assisting in nearby parishes (in one of the ten languages he speaks).
His story of coming to the United States began with his listening to a Basque radio program while driving back to the Basque Country through France for a visit. With his time in Belgium coming to an end, he had been pondering what he should do next to continue his ministry. As he drove he first came upon the Iparralde or North (French) side of the Basque Country, where he searched his radio dial for a Basque station. As it happens, there was a program on the air taking a look back at the Basque chaplains of the American West, and they were acknowledging the contributions of Fr. Martxel Tillous, who was the former Basque chaplain from 1994 until his death in 2009 (after that the Diocese of Bayonne could no longer spare a priest to send over to help minister to the Basque –American community). While listening to the program, he had a revelation: maybe his calling was to continue the work that Fr. Tillous had been doing, and to be a chaplain to the Basque-American community.
Symbolically to continue that tradition, he wants to follow what Aita Tillous started with the personalized license plate featuring the Basque word “Pottoka” (the wild, native pony of the Pyrenees of the Basque Country). So as you are driving around you might see his car with plate.
Pottoka are the indigenous ponies that freely roam the Pyrenees Mountains of the Basque Country. The late Aita Tillous started with this license plate, and now Aita Antton continues the tradition.
Franciscans owe their inspiration to Francesco di Bernardone, who became St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), an affluent young merchant from the Italian town of Assisi, who in 1206 renounced his wealth and social status in favor of a life dedicated to God and the least of God’s people. Soon, other men and women joined him to begin a vast movement of Gospel renewal within the medieval Church. By 1209, there were 12 brothers, and so they approached Pope Innocent III to gain approval of their way of life “according to the Holy Gospel.” The Order of Lesser Brothers (ordo fratrum minorum) — now formally known as the Order of Friars Minor — had begun. Franciscan brothers are informally called friars or capuchin (which derives from their distinctive brown habits with the hood on the back which is said to resemble the netting implement used to make coffee or capuchino).
There are two other related congregations: women comprise one which is called the Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of St. Francis for men and women members, whether in traditional religious communities or trying to live the ideals of the movement in their daily lives outside of religious institutions. Together, these three congregations have some 30,000 members, the largest family of religious men in the Catholic Church.