Catholic Church in Cuba strives to re-establish the faith
By DAVID EINHORN
HAVANA, Mar. 31, 2006 (ncronline.org) - Even in the worst of times, Maritza Sánchez never stopped attending church. José Luis Torres, raised in a secular family and in schools that deemed religion counter-revolutionary, didn't even start attending until times had changed. Today both are helping the Catholic church work its way back into Cuba's public consciousness, Sánchez as director of the aid group Cáritas and Torres as coordinator of youth programs in Havana.
Once one of Cuba's seminal institutions -- even President Fidel Castro attended Jesuit high schools -- the Catholic church suffered three decades of repression and reprisal following the socialist revolution in 1959. Most churches stayed open, but anyone who openly declared religious faith was prohibited from certain studies or careers. More than 400 Catholic schools were closed and confiscated.
After having long maintained that churches were fronts for subversive political activity, the government reversed course in 1992, amending the constitution to characterize the state as secular instead of atheist. Religious liberties further expanded following a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998.
Cuba today, however, is still no bastion of religious liberty. The government delays immigration and residence permits for priests, denies the church access to the Internet, and still prohibits religious schools. The U.S. State Department charged in 2005 that worshipers across the religious spectrum are still subject to state surveillance, although Catholic church officials maintain that direct repression and reprisals have all but disappeared.