Introduction / History
"The Basque people have always lived in this part of northern Spain and southern France. They were here before the Romans arrived before the time of Christ. They were apparently here even before the Iberians arrived in the rest of Spain. The Basques themselves would claim that they have never been conquered, though, judging from the amount of borrowed words from Latin to euskera, the Basques obvious mixed with the Romans around the time of Christ.
But from Roman times to the present, the Basques have been "a group apart" in Spain. They were never really conquered by the Visigoths, nor the Moors, and have always rebelled against Spanish domination as well. In terms of physical features ( high incidence of O blood type and RH negative factor), archaeology of that region, and their unique Basque language, euskera, they are clearly an ancient people who have lived in this corner of the world and maintained their unique identity down through the centuries, even millenniums. The Basque language, euskera, is a linguistic mystery in that it has no clear relationship to any other language in the world!
Where are they located?
The Basques are a unique and ancient people located in northern Spain and southern France at the border of those two countries and the Bay of Biscay (Atlantic Ocean). The entire Basque region is the same size as New Jersey.
In France, their land is among the poorest regions in all of France. In terms of concentration of Basques, the land along the coast is more tourist driven (and wealthy) but more sparsely Basque (even though "Basque tourism" is mentioned prominently). As you move away from the coast and into the surrounding hills and mountains (foothills of the Pyrenees), the traditional Basque culture is much more evident and common.
French Basque Country is a very small portion of their complete territory -- less than twelve percent of the total land surface and about nine percent of the total population.
The three small regions within French Basque County, along with their major cities are: Labourd -- Bayonne, Basse-Navarre -- Saint Jean de Pied-de-Port, and Soule -- Mauleon (French spellings).
Spanish Basque Country is the much larger area -- about eighty-eight percent of the total land area and ninety-one percent of the total population. In Spain, the area of the Basques is comprised of two of their seventeen autonomous regions. One of those regions is called Navarra (Spanish spelling). The other region is known as the Basque Country. Interestingly enough, the Basque Country (the autonomous region within Spain) is among the wealthiest of all the autonomous regions in Spain.
Navarra, historically the traditional Basque kingdom, makes up over half the total land area of the Basque people and a little over eighteen percent of their total population. Their main city is Pamplona. Over half of their total population of 500,000 people lives in that one city.
The Basque County is comprised of three small regions -- Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa, and Alava. Vizcaya has over forty percent of the total population of the Basque people and over seventy-five percent of those live in "greater Bilbao", their major city.
Guipuzcoa is the most "Basque" of all these regions, though many smaller towns and villages through the entire Basque area would beg to differ.
Note: "Basqueness" is now measured in terms of the percentage of Basque speakers (regardless of ethnicity) in a given region. In the latest census figures (2006), forty percent of the people from Gipuzkoa are considered Basque-speakers, twenty-six percent are "almost" Basque-speakers, and thirty-three percent are Spanish-speakers.
Alava is the only of these three regions not to share the Atlantic coast. It is also the least Basque of the three areas, but the capital city for the entire autonomous region is located in Vitoria.
What are their lives like?
Traditionally, the Basques are known as fishermen (sea), sheep herders, and subsistence farmers. Until the early nineteen hundreds, their way of life was largely unchanged. Although there are larger cities in the Basque Country (think Bilbao or Pamplona), Basques, for the most part, live in small towns, villages, and farm houses.
During the Industrial Revolution, they began to take on a more prominent "world role" due to large deposits of iron and coal along with their skills as ship-builders. Then during the Franco years in Spain (1935-1975), Franco actually encouraged businesses to move to the Basque Country in an attempt to dilute the strong Basque influence there. As a result, the autonomous region, the Basque Country, is now among the most powerful economic regions in all of Spain and many small businesses and industry dot the landscape -- both in towns and cities as well as in the countryside.
Obviously, due to their ancient history, the Basques would be considered "pagan" for most of their existence. Nevertheless, the Basque word for God is Jainkoa and means "the most high God" (very similar to the Canaanite term "El Elyon", shared by Melchizedek to Abraham in Genesis 14). So at one time in their past, they, like the majority of the ancient, "primitive" people of the world, had the concept of single, most important god.
What are their beliefs?
The Basques were among the last peoples of Spain to embrace Catholicism. When they did so, however, they did in mass. For many years, the Basque Country was the most Catholic in all of Spain. They contributed leaders to the Catholic Church, including Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.
What is difficult for many American Catholics to understand is that the Catholic Church around the world has a mission strategy of syncretism. They accept the "traditional beliefs" of the new people, and then try to re-create those in a Catholic form. Catholics would say that they are successful in that. Others might tend to disagree.
Another aspect of Catholicism in Spain is that it is very much a cultural Catholicism for the overwhelming majority of people. To be Catholic means to participate in the big events of the Catholic Church (infant baptism, first communion, confirmation, marriage in the Catholic Church, burial in the Catholic cemetery, and then the Mass for the dead on the anniversaries of their passing.
"Finally, down through the centuries the Catholic church has played a prominent role in the governing of Spain since 350 A.D. right up through the 1970's. They have insisted that to be Spanish is necessarily to be Catholic, and since the decline of the Roman Empire, they have lobbied subsequent national leadership to embrace the Catholic faith as their own and as a force for unity with Spain. Even General Franco used the imposition of Catholicism to "unite" all of the Spanish nation under his leadership. As a result, When Franco died in 1975, many Spaniards rejected the Catholic Church as well as Franco's failed agenda. The Basque Country went from the "most Catholic" to the "least Catholic" of all the autonomous regions of Spain in a 20-30 year period following Franco´s death.
Most Catholics still claim Catholicism if they claim any religious affiliation at all, but it is, for the most part, a cultural Catholicism only, and even in that limited sense, any real allegiance to the church has been greatly weakened."
What are their needs?
"From a materialistic point of view, the Basques would seem to lack little. They have most everything modern man could desire. Their land, though not their own nation, is beautiful. It is true that Spain is struggling, as is the rest of Europe, with the current economic crisis. But within the nation of Spain, the Basque Country continues to be at the top of the list in terms of wealth, economic opportunity, etc. The only real negative within the Basque Country (and indeed all of Spain) besides rising prices is the high rate of unemployment among young people. The future for that segment of the population does not appear to be so bright.
But below the surface, there are a number of issues creating real tensions.
First of all, the Basques are a very proud people -- proud of their history, their culture, their current standing in the world. And there is much for which to be proud. But as they go back to reconnect with their pagan past, many of those influences are not healthy. Even within the syncretistic Catholic Church, many traditions and celebrations exist that are not healthy, and the Church´s emphasis on biblical teaching (rather than church tradition) is very weak overall.
Spain, as a whole, and the Basque Country as well went from being a very conservative country morally, under Franco, (at least, officially) to a very "open" country under democracy. Alcohol, drugs (for those who can afford it) , sex, marriage, issues of sexual orientation, abortion, and "machismo" (poor treatment of women) are all social issues of concern in contemporary society.
Third, the Catholic Church of Spain, since the beginnings of the Counter Reformation have consistently indoctrinated its people to believe there are only four valid religious options: Catholic, Muslim, Jewish or "cult group". As a result of this constant message, the evangelical church continues to struggle to be understood by Spaniards and Basques as a whole, much less to be trusted or respected. And where the evangelical church is growing today in Spain, the overwhelming majority of growth comes from the immigrants from South and Central America, not from Spanish nationals and certainly not from the Basque people within the Basque Country. Though the evangelical churches within the Basque Country are growing (which is great news!), the makeup of the members within those churches is less and less "Spanish", and much less Basque within the Basque Country. There is still no Basque speaking evangelical church in all the Basque Country that this author is aware of......not even one!"
Lastly, there is a desire among some Basques to have their own country. E.T.A. is a group of freedom fighters or terrorists who have killed around 900 people in the past fifty years in an attempt to force that break-away from Spain. E.T.A. declared a permanent cease-fire in the the fall of 2011. Many are hoping that that initial decision will lead to the disarming and disbanding of E.T.A. so that this region can pursue their desires by political means and free from the cloud of violence. The truth is that there has been much violence in the past 150 years throughout Spain and now much healing and much genuine forgiveness is needed.
* Praise God for the growth of the evangelical church within Spain. Pray for greater numbers of native Spaniards and certainly greater numbers of Basque people within the Basque Country.
* Pray for a greater understanding of the need to reach out to the Basque people in their own language, euskera, so that in time, Basques could reach out to other Basques in culturally relevant, Basque forms.
* Pray for the missionaries within the Basque Country who are searching for strategies and ministry models to reach the Basques in their own language.
* Pray for a need for greater implementation of discipleship models and missions understanding within the evangelical community as well as a growing sense of unity within that group.
* Pray for a renewal among the Catholic Church of Basque Country and Spain. That church is very different from the US version, but certainly God can bring renewal and revival to that group of people as well.
* Pray for a new movement of prayer, the International Day of Prayer for the Basque Country, that would capture the hearts of intercessors around the world.
* Pray that God would call Basque believers to Himself that would feel a keen burden to share that same "good news" with other Basques around them.