Monday, January 21, 2008

"Angel of the Poor:" Celebrating the life of Ángel Torrellas, one of the CCBN's Founders

At the Mass on Sunday, the community of Batahola Norte celebrated the life of one of the Center's founders, Fr. Ángel Torrellas, who passed on January 21, 2002.

The following are excerpts translated from the writing of Fr. José Luis Burguet, op:

Ángel Torrellas was born in the city of Gijón, Spain in 1930. He entered seminary at age 11, and eventually completed high school and theological studies. During his time in Spain, Ángel fell in love with music, going on to teach music and form a chorus in León.

Not feeling satisfied with his life, Ángel was convinced by his sister to take a course at the Instituto Superior de Pastoral de Madrid, and there discovered a distinct way of being Christian that responded to the poor. After finishing his studies, he requested from his Dominican superiors to be sent to Latin America, which lacked priests. He was sent to Netzahualcóyolt, Mexico, where he lived for six years.

In Mexico, Ángel met and began to work with the American Sister Margarita Navarro from the Congregation of Saint Joseph de Medaillle. She helped him in his human and spiritual development, and above all, to value and struggle for the liberation of women from exploitation and violence.

Ángel applied and was granted for permission from the Dominicans to move to Managua, and he and Margarita arrived on March 2, 1983, two days before the arrival of the Pope. The Dominicans assigned Ángel to the community of Batahola Norte, and he and Margarita immediately began working there, going door to door to meet people in the newly-constructed neighborhood. They visited over 800 homes, and soon began teaching in the community, with Ángel giving classes of flute and guitar, and Margarita classes of sewing and handicrafts. Ángel also celebrated Mass every Sunday.

Such great excitement on the part of Ángel and Margie, and the community arose that soon they were organizing to find the land to build an educational and cultural center, and people (and especially women) to share their talents in art, music, dance, typing, computing, natural medicine, and adult literacy. A women's group soon formed to reflect on their struggles, and to promote self-esteem and support.

The Ángel Torrellas Chorus began to grow and become famous in the country, giving hundreds of concerts throughout Nicaragua--in temples, markets, factories, streets, non-profit organizations, theaters, hotels, churches, and other places. The chorus was formed with the idea that music should be accessible to all, and with the knowledge that music is linked to spiritual formation. The chorus has given concerts on TV, created tapes and CDs, and given concerts in El Salvador, Guatemala, the U.S., and Canada. It has taught many youths the art of music directing, including the current director, Juan Guido, who was a student of Ángel's for many years. At weekly Mass, the Chorus performs the "Misa Campesina," which focuses on Jesus as being in solidarity with the poor of Latin America.

As the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte grew, it began to be filled with paintings and murals. A library, that attended to hundreds of children daily. Various groups of foreigners to the country began to visit to learn from the CCBN's work and what members of the community thought about the reality of Nicaragua. Hundreds of scholarships were given to youths in the community, many of whom now are professionals in various fields.

The greatest accomplishment of the CCBN has to been to foster a community that cares for others, that is infused with values of solidarity and living out a preferential option for the poor.

On January, 21, 2002, the community of Dominicans was preparing to pray in the morning. Ángel began to complain of terrible pain in his back and stomach, which appeared to be symptoms of appendicitis. He entered the Military Hospital at 8am, and the doctors reported serious problems with his aorta that required immediate operation. At 1:30pm, doctors began the operation, and quickly realized that the aorta was damaged in several places and it was impossible to repair. Ángel passed away that day in the hospital.

Six years later, Ángel's memory is kept alive by all who remember him at the CCBN, who were inspired by his example of solidarity and who continue to work, in the words of the CCBN's mission statement, to "transform this society to the Reign of God."

- Laura Hopps

Below is a video clip of the The Ángel Torrellas Chorus and Orchestra from the Mass, directed by Juan Guido, performing "Angel of Batahola," written by Nicaragua's most beloved singer, Carlos Mejía Godoy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Happy New Year family and friends! Laura and I both enjoyed a wonderful Christmas season with our families, and are now back in Batahola Norte working on preparations for the English program, researching small business start-up, and putting together proposals for the volunteer program. Our time spent at home was full of family, friends, and a good deal of fund raising and flashcard making for the English program. My Christmas was especially exciting seeing as I got to meet my new nephew - Patrick! I spent lots of time playing train with my other nephew Elijah, going to the park, and avoiding dirty diapers. All in all, my vacation was a time of relaxation and rejuvenation, enjoying the company of many of the people I love.

In the beginning of January I made a trip up to Pennsgrove, NJ to give a presentation to the Pennsgrove Rotary Club about the Centro Cultural and the new English program. We shared a great lunch, good conversation, and I think we are all excited to have met each other and formed a connection. Thank you Pennsgrove for your support and hospitality!!

The Centro Cultural is currently in the middle of matriculas, or class registration. New and returned students are coming everyday to learn about the classes being offered. We've already had a lot of people come asking about the English program. Laura and I will be co-teaching a class of 20-25 students for two hours every Monday-Thursday evening. We're in the process of working on our lesson plans and visuals, and are excited to meet our students in a few weeks! The class is open to anyone 15 years and up, and will be catered to people interested in learning English for professional purposes. Unemployment and underemployment are high in Managua, and good jobs can be difficult to find. English is a huge asset to being able to find a good job, with many businesses now requiring basic knowledge. Unfortunately most language schools are very expensive, so many of the people who would benefit from learning English, can't. The Centro Cultural is excited to be offering our class at a low rate, giving many people who wouldn't normally be able to learn English the chance to do so. They're able to offer the class inexpensively due to the fact that Laura and I are volunteer teachers and due to the generosity of our donors who are helping us buy books, dictionaries, etc. Laura and I are excited to finally be able to put our TEFL Certification to good use!

Aside from the English program preparations, I'm also working on a series of interviews concerning small business start-up. The Centro Cultural offered a class last year to 34 people (33 were women) interested in starting their own business. We're in the process of interviewing these participants to see how their projects/plans are coming and any problems they have run into along the way. After compiling all their answers, the hope is that we'll be able to find ways we can improve the course for the next group. It has been an interesting and valuable process for me to be able to meet so many new and motivated people and learn about the struggles small businesses face. Not surprisingly, money and being able to take out loans is a big hurdle for many.

I'm excited to meet with the women's quilting group this coming Monday. They've been working on lots of projects over break, so be expecting pictures in my next update! Thanks so much for reading, and for your support! Sending much love to all,