EAST NEW YORK — A new facility designed to give children a chance to deepen their faith through artistic expression is poised to open in September in a neighborhood that local Catholic clergy members say really needs it.
The grand opening of the Belfry Centre for Spirituality and the Arts, sponsored by the Preachers of Christ and Mary and housed at St. Gabriel the Arcangel Church in East New York, is slated for Sept. 6. It will offer theater workshops, singing lessons, and classes in ballet and contemporary dance for kids ages 5-14.
The goal is to allow children to express themselves artistically and forge a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
A belfry is the section of a church steeple where its bell is housed.
“Let’s sound the bells to invite people to the New Evangelization,” said Mother Maria Amador PCM, the superior of the Preachers of Christ and Mary.
The program will operate after school from September to June. The Preachers of Christ and Mary will also operate a spirituality program at the site offering religious retreats and human development workshops for entire families.
“We are so excited about our new endeavor,” Mother Maria said. “St. Pope John Paul II used to say that the arts are the new epiphany. He was right.”
“The arts are a very powerful tool to evangelize, especially with the youth and especially here in New York, which is a mecca for the arts,” she added.
East New York is the perfect place for the program, according to Father Edward Mason, pastor of St. Gabriel Church.
“It’s a good idea to open the arts to children, especially because there is a lack of [arts] here,” he added.
The community is home to The East New York Arts and Civic High School, but there are few, if any, programs for children solely dedicated to the arts.
The Preachers of Christ and Mary are eager to reach children from underprivileged families — another reason East New York was selected. According to a 2019 study by New York University’s Furman Center, the poverty rate in Brooklyn’s Community Board 5, which includes East New York and Starrett City, is 23.3% — 7.3% higher than the citywide poverty rate of 16%.
When Mother Maria approached Father Mason with the idea of opening an arts center at St. Gabriel, “I jumped at the chance,” he said, calling the program “a dream come true.”
According to Mother Maria, the center’s purpose is in keeping with the mission of the Preachers of Christ and Mary, which is to incorporate the arts into evangelization.
She said the religious order has organized concerts, stage productions with religious themes, and other events throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn, “but now we’re putting all this together in one center.”
The Belfry Centre is currently registering students. For information, visit: thebelfrycentre.com