In a striking display of improved Church-State relations on the Island of Cuba, Cuban President Raul Castro attended the inauguration of the first new Catholic building within the communist nation since the revolution more than fifty years ago. What’s more, the new building is a seminary to train men studying for ordination as Roman Catholic priests.
This follows the Castro regime’s recent request for Vatican intervention in a diplomatic matter. The BBC reports:
The new seminary, where students will be trained for the priesthood, is a symbol of just how far Church-state relations have improved in recent years, says the BBC’s Michael Voss in Havana.Raul Castro turned to the Church to broker a deal over dissidents
The original seminary was taken over by the Cuban authorities in 1966 and men wanting to become priests were forced to study at an old building in Havana.
After the 1959 revolution, many priests left Cuba and Fidel Castro declared the island an atheist state, although diplomatic ties with the Vatican were never severed.
The major turning point in relations came in 1998 when Pope John Paul II was permitted to visit Cuba.
Earlier this year, President Raul Castro, facing growing international pressure, turned to the Catholic Church to help arrange the release of 52 political prisoners.
Under the agreement, the government promised to free – by 8 November – 52 political prisoners imprisoned in 2003 after a crackdown on opposition activists, government critics and commentators.
It seems to me that this is a very positive sign of what is to come under the Raul Castro administration of the Island nation. The Catholic Church in Cuba has continued to have a strong presence and vitality despite the communist revolution, a long-standing history of sanctions from the United States and the formal declaration by the communist party that Cuba is an “atheist state.” The opening of this seminary, as the Miami Herald reported, is a sign of the future church in Cuba.
The seminary, housed on 55 acres about 10 miles southeast of the Cuban capital, replaces a facility that was taken over by the regime in 1966 and made into a military barracks and later a policy academy, following a common practice after the revolution of clamping down on and repurposing religious schools and institutions…
In an interview before traveling to Havana, Wenski told El Nuevo Herald that the seminary represents a “living testimony” that faith and the Catholic Church have the possibility to continue moving forward in Cuba. “It demonstrates that there is a future for a church that serves as a witness of hope, which is what Cuba needs in this moment.”
“Politically, it’s important as a step in change, but what’s also important is that the church seems to have support from the population if they have people who want to go into the seminary. In other countries, there are seminaries that have been closing,” said Ana Maria Bidegain, an associate professor of Religious Studies at Florida International University who studies Catholicism in Latin America.
Additional coverage of the story:
BBC World News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11692404