Thursday, March 7, 2013

An Apostle of Bilbao and A Missionary of Gujarat- Fr.Pablo Gil S.j


An  Apostle of Bilbao and A Missionary of Gujarat
1935 - 2013
Pablo Gil SJ

It was a shock for me to hear the news that Fr Daniel Baztarrika had passed away. Over the years he had been a close friend. In fact he had been close to many of our missionaries in Gujarat. He was in love with the Gujarat Mission. He had visited it several times. He knew it well and he was aware of its needs. He was universal in his generosity. Being a Jesuit, it is natural that he would help mainly Jesuits, especially those who had been his companions in the Society of Jesus. But he extended his generosity to other missionaries, chiefly religious Sisters. He helped regularly the Leper Hospital at Surat, and the Cloistered Carmel at Baroda.

He and I studied in the same school,  the Apostolic  School  of Javier, the birthplace of St. Francis Xavier and the fountainhead from which a copious stream of missionary vocations have flowed into many missions in all parts he world. But he was quite some years junior to me, so I came to know him personally in one of his visits to India. I was taken up by his enthusiasm and zeal. After that first meeting, I paid him a visit in Bilbao every time I went to Spain for a home visit.

He was born in Azcoitia just a stone’s throw from Loyola, the birthplace of Ignatius.  Being a Jesuit, and formed both in Javier and Loyola, it is only natural that he was inspired by the ideal of the missions. Yet he obediently remained in Spain and spent nearly all his life as a Jesuit in Bilbao.

For many years he was Students Counsellor and Spiritual Father in the College of our Lady of Begona in Bilbao. He had a special charism to deal with school boys, and he forged friendships with them that lasted a life time.

He was continuously on the move visiting people, but apart from a good pair of legs, he used no other vehicle, except the metro for longer trips. Walking along the streets of Bilbao gave him a chance to meet many old boys he had taught and counselled during the many years he had been Spiritual Father in the school. He did not waste time in light conversation with them, he went straight to inquiring about their spiritual health, and he would question them about frequent confession, the Rosary, Sunday Mass, and so on. No one would normally be so direct, but he could do it because he loved the old boys and they loved and respected him.

In my visits to Bilbao he would offer me a chance to speak about the mission of Gujarat to apostolic groups of parishioners he directed. He would accompany me to places or people I had to visit, and on the way he made so many stops to talk to persons he knew, that I thought he knew half the people of Bilbao. He would do this with every missionary of Gujarat that visited him. He encouraged his acquaintances, including his family members, to be generous with donations for Gujarat. God only knows how much financial help he sent to Gujarat over the years.

 He kept constant communication with Gujarat. He used to send personal short notes to Fr Del Rio for distribution among the many missionaries he was helping. When Fr Del Rio died, I had the privilege of being Fr Bastarrika’s postman, and distribute what he called “brief notes” to the missionaries, informing them about the donations he was sending them through Alboan and recommending that they acknowledged receipt of donations to the benefactors. How many missionaries were blessed through Fr Baztarrika’s zeal and generosity!

He spent long hours in the confessional of the Jesuit Residence. People knew that he would be there regularly wiithout fail and took advantage of his availability. He was often seen in the parlour attending to people’s spiritual needs. When I visited him in his room I witnessed that he was continuously being interrupted by telephone calls from people who needed his spiritual assistance.

The Lord cut short his apostolic journey through a painful cancer that little by little sapped his energy. He was operated, but the malignant cancer had already spread so much that the doctors despaired of saving him. I happened to be in Spain on vacation at the time, and  when I visited him  to say good bye, as I was returning to Gujarat , he  was still optimistic  about his recovery, but I had already been informed by Doctors that he wouldn’t  last long. It was painful to say good-bye to an old and dear friend, knowing that it was our last meeting here on earth.

 He will be missed by many of us and also by many of his old boys who till the end were calling him to bless their marriage or to baptize their children. We shall remember him as an example of a zealous priest and as a great missionary of Gujarat.

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