The Pope’s pastoral visit to Cuba has given both the Church and the Cuban government the opportunity to acknowledge the gradual progress made towards religious freedom, and the distance yet to go towards genuine liberty for Christians in Cuba.
Despite an estimated 60% of Cubans identifying themselves as Catholic, the relationship between the Church and the Marxist regime has always been difficult – from 1959 up until 1992 Cuba was officially an ‘atheist state’ – progress since then has proved sluggish. Restrictions on the movement of clergy, compulsory state registration, the suppression of religious education and police surveillance all continue to be difficulties faced everyday by Cuba’s Christian population.
These are concerning issues that have yet to be addressed; however, the Dignitatis Humanae Institute also acknowledges that cautious steps towards a further degree of religious liberty have been made in recent years.
Restrictions on the building of Churches have been relaxed, with renovations to a number of Churches underway and the building of a new seminary campus completed. In addition, Christian groups in Cuba report an improvement in the ability to obtain religious material, receive donations from abroad and receive exit permits in order to attend international religious events.
During his visit, Pope Benedict expressed the need for good relations between the Church and the state. President Raul Castro also re-asserted a pledge to “full religious freedom to every citizen.”
Commenting on the Pope’s visit, Honorary President of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino stated: “The recent steps in Cuba towards further religious liberty are to be encouraged and we are now seeing a cautious optimism growing amongst the Christian community. Following the positive response to the Pope’s visit, the Cuban government now has a unique opportunity to demonstrate that they are genuinely dedicated to improving religious freedom for all Cubans.”