In memory of EUGENIO BACAICOA (PeBeFa N°32)
Eugenio liked to remember and repeat with a mischievous smile the classic words of all the grandmothers in the world and especially his own: “My grandson is the most beautiful in the world and the smartest in his class at school”. And the truth is that all of us who had the good fortune to live with him in Africa or Spain can say that Eugene was a great confrere and friend, optimistic and good-humoured, a solid pillar in community life, which we could lovingly define as “a humble fanfarrón”. That is why he was born in Puente la Reina!
A priest from Burkina Faso, whom Eugene brought to the seminary in his youth, also remembers him in this way: “Father Bacaicoa was a great missionary in my diocese, an animator of Christian communities, close to the people, a youth pastor, a guitarist and singer, a courageous apostle.
Eugene was born in 1941 in Puente la Reina, Navarre. If you didn’t know this when you first greeted him, you would have learned it very quickly, so proud was he of his family and his home town, an obligatory stop on the Way of St. Jacques, with its ancient churches and convents, and its beautiful Roman bridge that opens the road to Santiago de Compostela.
Eugene had followed the classical training of the White Fathers of the time: Minor Seminary and Philosophy at the Seminary in Pamplona, Novitiate in Gap, France, and Theology in Heverlee, Belgium. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1968, he went to Upper Volta, now called Burkina Faso, in the Diocese of Diebugu. In 1972 Eugene was appointed Provincial Councillor.
Shortly afterwards, he was appointed parish priest and was part of the last community of White Fathers in this diocese. Eugene used to say that when he returned to Africa after the holidays, he would run away from his father’s house in the early morning to avoid giving his elderly parents a hard time!
In 1977, Eugene was appointed to promote the mission in Spain, more precisely in Bilbao. Later, the Spanish Province asked him again for his service in 1987 as leader of the Africanum and the small group of students at the formation centre.
In 1993, Eugene returned to Africa, to another country, Chad, and to a new mission: a school for catechists, in Bendone, in the diocese of Doba. At the end of his contract with the bishop for that mission, Eugene returned to Burkina Faso. There he was appointed in 1999 to a position of great responsibility: Regional Superior of Ouagadougou (1999-2005), in a very large territory extending as far as Zinder in Niger. He had to make many trips and many kilometres to visit and animate the communities of confreres, which were still numerous at the time. The Regional Father of Burkina Faso remembers him in these terms: “We can say that the missionary life of our confrere Eugène Bacaicoa was very rich in important responsibilities in formation, parish ministry, and in the tasks of governance of the Society, both in Spain and in Chad and Burkina Faso.
During all these years, Eugene kept a secret that only his friends knew: on Sunday afternoons, he would isolate himself in his office to follow the sports news of the National Radio of Spain. With him, we had to rejoice or suffer depending on the results of his two teams so full of enthusiasm: Osasuna and Barça.
In 2005, Eugenio returned to Spain for good due to the fragility of his skin, which forced him to stay away from the African sun. From his residence at the Africanum in Madrid, now without students, he gave a helping hand to the different animation services of the Spanish province, mainly in collaboration with the SCAM (Servicio Conjunto de Animación Misionera) and the animation of prayer groups of young people with a missionary spirit and an interest in Africa.
After the definitive closure of the Africanum, Eugene offered his pastoral service to the Diocese of Madrid, being appointed Mission Coordinator of Vicariate I of Madrid and being appointed parish priest of El Berrueco and two other neighbouring villages in the mountains of Madrid. There he lived happily for some years of apostolate, silence and prayer. Perhaps dreaming of one of the other charisms of the monks, he produced a liqueur of Navarrese origin: Pacharán. He said it was the best of all liqueurs and he kept it for his visitors and friends.
The last post in his life as a missionary was Pamplona, in 2017. It is said that elephants return to die in the place where they were born. Over the last few months, Eugene’s state of health has gradually deteriorated. That is why he was admitted on 26 June to the Beloso Alto residence in Pamplona.
The good care he received was not enough to allow him to resume a normal life. Eugene slowly faded away, and went quietly to the Father’s house on July 21, 2020. We accompanied him with our memories and our fraternal prayer. May he rest eternally in the peace of the Lord.
Juan Jose Osés