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.

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