‘Witch Hunt’ against churches persists even after Pope’s visit
Following the 1959 Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise in power, construction of churches in Cuba had been severely limited and a large number of Catholic priests were jailed or exiled. However, as relations with both the Vatican and the U.S. improved, there was hope that persecution of Christianity in Cuba was finally coming to an end when the construction of the first Roman Catholic Church since 1959 was announced last February.
For the first time in more than half a century, church bells rang out throughout Havana on Good Friday in memory of the death of Jesus Christ and people were granted a public holiday at the request of Pope Benedict when he visited the island. Admittedly not many attended Mass in the city’s main cathedral presided over by Cardinal Jaime Ortega but Christianity certainly appeared to be experiencing a revival. The increasing number of believers even prompted the Southern Baptist churches’ International Mission Board to send 83,723 Spanish-language Bibles to Cuba in March.
The change in attitude towards Christianity by the authorities may have been shortlived. Contrary to what may be expected, the communists appear to have intensified their hatred and persecution of the church following the Pope’s visit to Cuba and the re-establishment of relations with the United States. Now some Christian groups are claiming that they are being victimised, as Cuban officials have reportedly ordered all churches in a neighborhood in the city of Santiago de Cuba to be demolished.
Rev. Alain Toledano, who leads one of the targeted churches in the Abel Santa Maria, said “There is a witch hunt against churches in Cuba at this time, mainly against the churches of apostolic and prophetic ministry”. He added “In our case, this would be the second time that the racist communists have attempted to evict us from our house, throw us out on the street and demolish our church, only now their diabolical hatred and fury is directed at other congregations too”.
Baptist and Assemblies of God denominations in Santiago, along with Assemblies of God churches in the Las Tunas Province, were among the places of worship affected by the eviction order issued late in November by Planning and Housing Officials.
Although Goverment officials claimed that the demolished churches were not legally registered, some pastors say they have the paperwork to prove this claim was untrue. A number of reports from both registered and unregistered denominations indicate that the authorities have been confiscating church properties at their discretion, or telling the occupants they can only stay if they pay very high rent to the government.