The first new Catholic church to be built in Cuba in over 60 years opened its doors Saturday in the rural town of Sandino, providing what some say is “a new sign of faith” in the socialist country.
With the help of a parish in Tampa, Florida, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish became the first of three new parishes to be completed across the island nation.
The bright yellow church that seats about 200 people is the first Catholic parish to be dedicated since the days of the Cuban Revolution and the revolutionary government’s crackdown on organized religion.
The project came to be thanks to a fundraising campaign launched by St. Lawrence Parish in Tampa that raised over $95,000 to cover much of the construction costs.
“It was incredible to see the church that was built by a small but faith-filled community in Sandino,” Father Chuck Dornquast, the parochial vicar of St. Lawrence Parish, said in a statement. “While the church seats 200 people, it’s estimated that nearly 500 people attended the dedication.”
According to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Catholic schools were closed and many priests and religious communities were exiled following the Cuban Revolution. Additionally, public expressions of faith “became taboo.”
A move toward more tolerance of some public expressions of faith started in the 1990s when Pope John Paul II celebrated mass in Cuba with thousands of believers. Also in the 1990s, the Communist Party removed atheism as one of the membership requirements.
Although Cuba remains a secular state, the communist government has become much more tolerant of Christianity.
The Diocese explained in a press release that Catholics in Sandino, a town on the very northwest end of the island, had previously held mass and Bible studies and other gatherings at their homes. The community expects that the new building will bring more people and strengthen their congregation.
“Christ has placed the call to make disciples in each of us, whatever our circumstances,” Dornquast added. “People in this tiny town of Cuba are finding a way to live out that call, despite their difficult circumstances.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith