Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Religious Freedom in Cuba

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For decades the United Church of Canada has maintained a cordial, supportive relationship with the Protestant church in Cuba. One year during a vacation we visited the seminary nearby in the city of Mantanzas. As well as providing theological education it has extensive vegetable gardens which grow food for the seminarians and the surrounding community. On a subsequent trip we took a suitcase of cloth and sewing thread and needles for a sewing collective which was church-run. Here in Canada congregations I served hosted pastors from Cuba who spoke about their congregational life and community work.

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View from the seminary grounds in Matanzas

Since the revolution in Cuba in 1959 the government has claimed that there is religious freedom in the country, yet Christians were cautious about what they said and did because any challenges to perceived human rights violations would be met with punishment in various forms. That repression of religion was relaxed during the past 25 years.  

I thought about this when I read that there was a vote on a new constitution during this past weekend which would establish the Cuban Communist Party officially as the "supreme guiding political force" in the state and society. There are no opposition parties in Cuba so church leaders, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have been the outspoken critics of what could lead to a new era of restrictions on religion. The RC bishops bishops have stated that "the free practice of religion is not merely the freedom to have religious beliefs but the freedom to live in conformity with one's faith and to express it publicly."

According to an NPR report a Baptist pastor has offered that "evangelism for me doesn't live just within the four walls of the church, Our faith doesn't just free us from the eternal consequences of sin. It also makes us free here on earth, and that brings us into conflict with a totalitarian regime that restricts our freedoms." The response by the Communist party to expressed concerns has been harsh and the pastor was told that he should stick with singing songs and teaching the bible inside the church.In recent weeks leading up to the constitutional referendum, Cuban religious leaders say they have come under intense pressure to urge their congregants to vote Yes.

More than a million Canadians visit Cuba annually, making up 40% of all tourists. While we go primarily for a holiday in the cold of winter we can't turn a blind eye to the rights of those who live there and want freedom of speech and religion. We can pray for those who are speaking out and for the work of local congregations within communities.

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Seminary vegetable gardens

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