CUBA – Government gives back expropriated Havana chapel that had been turned into a shop
After more than fifty years, the government of Cuba returned a former chapel dedicated to St Therese of the Child Jesus in the parish of Nuevitas to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Camagüey. The chapel had been used for various purposes and eventually turned into a grocery store a after it was by the communist regime.
In the ceremony were representatives of the municipal Trade Company, a group of parishioners, the pastor Castor Jose Alvarez Devesa and Hector Horruitiner seminarian.
Fr Alvarez, who also serves as National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, held a Mass of reparation in the chapel to “apologize because for about 55 years this place was closed to Jesus.” “Thank God it has returned to being a house of prayer,” he said. The priest added “we are now making plans to try to restore the place because it’s a little shabby. We want to use it, even though it hasn’t been completely fixed up, as a mission house for this neighborhood.”
Commenting on the return of the chapel, Father Alvarez said that it was a joy to see that justice has taken a step towards religious freedom, from where they could further develop the position of religion in Cuba. ” What happened is good, it gives us joy, but we know we have to keep waiting. We have to keep asking God, “he added.
However, he clarified that more important than “ the return of buildings” is the right to education, to have formal schools” which the Church still needs. “For example some schools have not yet been returned. We still have not the right to religious freedom to which we aspire” he said.
“So this (the return of the chapel) was a gesture” but people still lack the freedom to access the media. “The internet is not so affordable for people, we do not have free access to radio and television.” Those are steps towards the freedom that people hope for.
After the communists took power in Cuba in 1959, Fidel Castro started issuing a series of commands to play down Church influence. Among these was the expulsion of priests and religious in 1961 and the expropriation of schools and churches. Several of these properties since then have been used for non-religious purposes. The most notorious case is that of the former Villa Marista in Havana which is now used by the State Security.
In recent years the government has returned some confiscated properties, including the churches of Santa Maria and Santa Elena in Havana, expropriated for 30 years and handed back in 2006. However, other buildings belonging to religious congregations are still held by the state.