A few months ago, we brought you a blog entry on the epic work of the Basque Passionists in the Peruvian Amazon jungle, heroic and prodigious work that reminds us how, despite being one of the largest sources of the Basque diaspora, which had the greatest impact on the adopted homeland, is largely unknown and underappreciated: that of the Basque missionaries.
That’s why at the time we used the “excuse” of the first anniversary of the passing of Miguel Irizar CP, a Basque Passionist who led the Vicariate of Yurimaguas from 1972 to 1989. Since its founding in 1921, this vicariate has been led by a Basque bishop. Soon after that entry, we interviewed Jesús María Aristín, the Passionist who is leading that vicariate today.
Since the arrival of the first twelve Passionists in 1913 to the Peruvian jungle, who would have left San Felicísimo in Bilbao around Christmas 1912, the work of this religious community has been extraordinary in that part of the world. So far, we’ve brought you the keys to this hard work via audiovisual documents and writings that were prepared for the 100th anniversary of that arrival.
Today, we bring you another article in the series on their journey, and to do so, we’re once again using the “excuse” of a day in history: the upcoming commemoration of the birth of another Basque Passionist, Martín Fulgencio Elorza Legaristi. He was born in Elgeta, in Gipuzkoa, just before the turn of the century, on December 30, 1899, and died in Peru as the first bishop of the Prelature of Moyobamba, in the middle of the Peruvian jungle, on the same day in 1966.
To help to get to know him, his work, and that of that group of Basques in the jungle, we’re going to share two documents of extraordinary value, both for their content as well as for covering two works that are not widely known and which were presented to the Vatican as part of the case to canonize Father Elorza.
One of them is the biography historian Oscar Álvarez-Gila prepared at the behest of the Passionists and which was presented to the Archbishop of Lima on December 8, 1996 as the historical part of the documentation of the life of Mons. Elorza in his episcopal work in Moyobamba which was used as the Introduction to the Cause for his canonization. In order to include this biography, which was sent to Rome, we’ve had to convert the documents which had been saved in a twenty-year-old version of Word to a current version, and re-edit the general design.
The other is a 1978 book written by another Passionist, Father Antonio María Artola which offers us a complete biography of Elorza’s life, from his birth in Elgeta to his death in Peru. This document was typewritten and given by the Passionists to Julio Pablo Bazan in order to be included in the archives of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu in Lima – Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea (Lima Basque Center). Here we include a photocopy of the original.
From our point of view, both books have three aspects that give them such extraordinary value and interest:
- They tell us about the life of a man whose existence and only be defined as “unique”, both for the historical events he experienced as well as for his commitment.
- They help us to better understand the work of these Basque missionaries in Peru.
- They offer us important details about key moments in that nation’s history.
Regarding that last point, the chapters dedicated to the so-called Civil War and the first years of the Franco dictatorship in the book written by Father Artola are of great value. They tell us, from the point of view of a Passionist priest, how things went and the role played by the authorities and political and social groups. And they show us, with great clarity, the commitment this order had with our country.
A whole chapter is dedicated to “Aita Patxi“, the Passionist who was Elorza’s student and who, as the chaplain of the gudaris, displayed great heroism and commitment, which should guarantee him a permanent place in the memory of the Basques and the recognition of the Church. He was in the worst fronts of that war against the totalitarian monster that almost devoured Europe. He was also in the Bombing of Guernica, which he covers with great detail and precision, highlighting the presence of a large mobile population in the city, including several battalions of the Army of Euzkadi and speaking of the thousands of victims when discussing the consequences of that attack.
So, what we have here are two books that are highly interesting for many reasons, which we offer you here so everyone can know them and share them.
Martín Fulgencio Elorza Legaristi shines for so many reasons: his commitment and dedication, his work ethic and organization, his iron will to carry out his mission and fulfill the responsibilities he had been given.
He was a man with a conservative religious point of view who had to live through times of great changes, both in his homeland, Euskadi, as well as his adopted home of Peru. He also had to live through times of great reflection and change in the Catholic Church. He lived the Second Vatican Council as a participant, with everything that brought with it as regards changes and indeed revolution in the Church. He didn’t feel prepared for the great theological debates, but he proposed and defended radical changes in the way the Church dealt with the faithful, he defended the use of vernacular languages in the Church.
He was a Basque who lived through the persecution of his language, and he was a missionary in the Amazon; there fore, he knew how important it was to talk to people in their own language.
The Prelature of Moyobamba no longer has a Basque bishop, and undoubtedly the presence of Basque Passionists in that part of the world is going to continue to decrease. But they have fulfilled their mission, and continue to do so: working for those in greatest need, and always towards the goal that these communities no longer need their help and protection, and that they become the protagonists in their own history.
We don’t know if the current leaders of the diocese will remember the birth of their first bishop this December 30, and of how he carried out such awesome religious and social work for the Church in those lands. Memory is fragile, especially when remember others’ great contributions.
But we did want to remember him, him and all the Basques misisonaries who took the best of our country to the most needy corners of the world.
Lead photo: Monsignor Elorza (left) and a young Miguel Irizar, who would go on to be bishop of Yurimaguas (right). In the center is Father Andrés Asenjo, one of the first Passionists to arrive to the Peruvian jungle.
All the photos and books that appear here are courtesy of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima.
With the collaboration of:
Last Updated on Mar 18, 2022 by About Basque Country