"El Colegio de los Jesuitas? Todo Recto!" , says the old man, leaning against a bright yellow American oldtimer. It is December and extremely hot in Cienfuegos, on Cuba's south coast. Before we could start regretting our quest, we are seeing the college at last. Flabbergasted by its hugeness, and noticing that the complex is in full renovation, we try to find someone showing me around the premises. And that is when we met the most, most peculiar man: Padre Ignacio Margarino sj.
The college was built in the 19th century, as an all-boys college named Nuestra Signora de Monserrat. In 1961, after Castro's revolution, the college was confiscated and used as an administrative venue. After that, it was left to decay... Until 2013 that is. As a gesture of good will, anticipating pope Francis' venue to the island, the regime restituated all confiscated Church properties. Padre Ignacio was put in charge of finding a new destination for the building. He had the facades restored but eventually ran out of funds.
Padre Ignacio was particularly enthousiast about his main project: the creation of a cultural center for Cienfuego's children. Centro Loyola will provide drawing-, theater- and music workshops for children and teenagers.
What could seem for us a small scale project is vital in the Cuban context: the children and teenagers can only rely on state organisations as an outlet for their creativity and talent. "Here will come the cultural centre", said the Padre, pointing to a yellow building in the middle of the courtyard. "As you can see for yourself, it is roofless..."
"Maybe we can help about the roof?", we replied.
Back in Belgium, we took upon ourselves to raise funds to put a roof on Centro Loyola. We came in contact with Hubeje vzw, the Jesuits' organisation responsible for aid projects in developing countries.
This cultural center is a genuine social project, not a Church or parish project.
All children of Cienfuegos will be welcome!
Jules Culot and Charles Haverbeke