BY JOHN PONTIFEX
CATHOLICS in Cuba have achieved an unprecedented breakthrough after the regime agreed to plans for the renovation of four churches in the capital.
In a country where churchbuilding applications can be delayed by several years or more the government approval of major repairs to four key churches in Havana is being hailed as one of the best signals yet of improving links between Catholic leaders and Raul Castro’s year-old administration.
Just weeks after the plans were approved Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the charity for persecuted Christians, has given £56,600 towards the total cost of the repair work.
Of the total ACN payment, £18,900 is being funded by the charity’s British office.
The buildings that will be renovated include some of the Catholic Church’s oldest structures in Cuba, dating back to the mid-18th century, classic examples of the famous Spanish colonial design.
Chief among them is Havana’s Guira de Melena church which needs urgent repairs to the roof – a project considered to be a priority by the bishops.
Another concerns St Joseph of Lidice’s chapel which requires major plastering work, new doors and windows as well as re-wiring and toilets. The oldest of the four structures to be repaired is the parish church of St Francis Xavier, which needs a complete makeover, including retiling work, replacement of wooden beams as well as replastering and painting in a job requiring extensive scaffolding.
More renovation will take place at the church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Havana’s Guanabacoa district. It was built in 1960 in the two-year period between the Communist takeover and Fidel Castro’s crackdown on the Church.
A spokesman for ACN said: “The fact that these repair plans – long in the making – have received the green light represents a major step forward for Church-state relations.
“It shows that since Raul Castro replaced his brother, Fidel, as president, a new relationship is beginning to emerge with the Church, one in which Catholics, and Christians in general, are no longer automatically seen as enemies of the state. Obviously, there is a long way to go still, but this gives grounds for hope.” He added: “It is vital that Aid to the Church in Need stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the faithful in Cuba so that when opportunities arise such as this, the bishops can turn to us, confident of our readiness to help.”