This post was originally published in March of 2012 as part of a series of posts on “Religion in Cuba.” I’m republishing it today in honor of Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba. Links to the other posts follow. I hope you’ll take the time to read them all.
Many of you are aware that Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba recently. His visit marks the 400th anniversary of Cuba’s patron saint, El Virgen del Cobre, and marks thawing relations between the church and the still communist state.
During the beginning years of the revolution, the church struggled in Cuba. Many clergy were deported and church land was nationalized. Believers of all denominations were banned from the Communist Party and Cuba became an “atheist” state. But in recent years, the state has become more tolerant of religion.
Christmas was once again celebrated as a national holiday just in time for John Paul II’s visit 14 years ago in 1998. And the Catholic Church has found a more prominent role, led by Cardinal Jaime Ortega under Raul Castro who has ruled since 2008.
The pope’s visit to Cuba is something of a tightrope walk, balancing calls from dissidents and the demands of the Cuban state. And Benedict XVI has his church’s mission and interests to consider as well. Since the revolution, many believers have left the church. Christian Evangelism and the syncretic West African religions — particularly Santeria — may now be more popular than Catholicism. At the very least they are major influences on the island’s religious landscape.
I recently completed a series on Religion in Cuba for my other blog Havana Project. If you are interested in this topic, I urge you to take a look.