CUBA – First Catholic church to be built in 60 years
A new Catholic church is being built in Sandino, located in the western corner of Cuba – the first in 60 years. About 40,000 people live in the coastal town. The new church will be called the Parish of Divine Mercy of Sandino, and will be led by Father Cirilo Castro. The 800 square foot building will have a maximum capacity of 200 people.
Construction is being funded by St. Lawrence church in Tampa, Florida which provided $95,000 in donations. The idea for the project was first conceived in 2010 by St. Lawrence’s former pastor, who wanted a greater spiritual connection between Cuba and Tampa. Tampa and Cuba have already had strong ties over the importation of tobacco in the late 19th century.
Father Ramon Hernandez, pastor of Saint Lawrence, said his parishioners are happy to see how their funds have financed the project, and he looks forward to the inauguration Mass in January or February of 2018.
During a visit to Tampa last month, Fr. Castro said that the roof was the last piece of the structure, expected to be installed by the end of June. The pews and the altar will be added over the next few months in preparation for the first mass early next year.
The completion of Divine Mercy of Sandino marks a significant step towards religious freedom since Fidel Castro ushered in communism and atheism during his revolution in the 1960s. There are plans to build many other churches in Cuba. Two other Catholic churches are currently under construction in Havana and Santiago.
The new Sandino church, alongside a refurbished synagogue in Havana, shows Cuba’s progress in religious freedom since Fidel Castro ushered in communism during his 1960s revolution which established atheism as the belief system for the entire state. Religions like Mormonism and Islam have also been allowed to grow.
“Cuba is changing,” said Fr Hernandez, a native Cuban who celebrated Mass in churches hidden in the homes of faithful families before leaving the country in the 1980s. Religious persecution still lingers, but developments in religious freedom have notable increased.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom acknowledged that churches have been dissembled and religious leaders have been arrested even within the past year. However, the report reveals that nearly 70 per cent of Cuba’s population is Catholic and additional five per cent is Protestant, showing a greater attachment to the faith despite government meddling into religious affairs.