Cuba builds its first new Catholic church in 55 years in sign of thawing relations with Vatican
- Cuba has allowed construction of country’s first Catholic church in 55 years
- Experts believe it is a sign of improving relations between church and state
- The new church will be funded by Florida Catholics and will fit 200 people
Cuba has allowed construction of the country’s first new Catholic church in 55 years, in a sign of improving relations between the Vatican and Cuba’s communist government.
The new church, funded by donations from Catholics in Tampa, Florida, will be built in Sandino, a citrus and coffee-growing town in the far-western province of Pinar del Rio.
The Catholic Church publication ‘Christian Life’ said it will have space for 200 people.
‘The construction of a church is a clear demonstration of a new phase, of an improvement, in relations between the church and the state,’ said Enrique Lopez Oliva, a professor of the history of religions at the University of Havana.
The Catholic Church had tense relations with what was long an officially atheist government for many years after the 1959 revolution, but they began to improve ahead of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998.
The government revived observance of a Christmas holiday and began allowing masses or homilies to be broadcast on official media.
It also dropped a ban on church membership for Communist Party members that had been adopted in the years after the 1959 revolution.
The thawing of relations between the Cuban Government and the Vatican has been a slow process but gradual process.
Two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI ended a visit to Cuba by publicly criticizing the 50-year-old trade embargo imposed by the U.S.
The Pope claimed the blockade, introduced after Cuba’s Communist revolution in 1959 and strengthened three years later, was an unfair burden on Cuba’s people after a meeting with leader of the revolution and former president Fidel Castro.
The Pontiff made the comments at Havana airport alongside current president, Fidel’s brother Raul, after celebrating Mass in front of huge crowds in Havana.
He said Cubans should be ‘forging a society of wide horizons, renewed and reconciled’.
He added: ‘No one should feel excluded from taking up this exciting search by the limitations of their basic freedoms, or excused from this by indolence or a lack of material resources – a situation which is worsened when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people.’
Pope Benedict met with Castro for the first time after saying mass in Havana, in which he demanded greater freedom in the country and denounced Communist ‘fanaticism’.