Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Church Could Play Larger Role in Post-Fidel Cuba

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Church Could Play Larger Role in Post-Fidel Cuba

Article excerpt

The relationship between Fidel Castro and the Cuban Catholic church has been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, though it has noticeably improved in recent years.

Even in his death, announced Nov. 25, Castro defied the church by requesting that his remains be cremated, a practice accepted but discouraged by the Vatican.

But his death could also embolden the church to take a more proactive role on the communist island and bolster its budding relationship with his brother, President Raul Castro, said Enrique Pumar, head of the sociology department at The Catholic University of America, who has studied the Catholic church in Cuba.

"This is definitely an opportunity," Pumar said. "Raul is going to be more open to the church. But this is going to happen gradually That's the way change takes place in Cuba."

Fidel was schooled in an elite Jesuit school in Santiago de Cuba in the eastern part of the island and later attended the Jesuit-led Colegio de Belen in Havana. Even the band of guerrillas he led in the 1950s weren't all atheists. They had a chaplain, appointed by his bishop, to baptize babies born in the Sierra Maestra and to bury the dead revolutionaries, journalist Austen Ivereigh wrote recently in Cruxnow. com, an online Catholic news outlet.

"But as the revolution turned atheist and communist, and the clergy turned against it, in Fidel's binary politics, the church was an enemy of the revolution," he wrote.

Fidel's regime abolished church activity, shuttered churches and sent many priests across the island underground. Government control over churches began to loosen in the 1970s and further eased after Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998. Visits by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and Pope Francis last year further warmed relations. Indeed, Francis served as the catalyst for the renewed U.S.-Cuban relations.

Critics, mainly Cuban-American exiles and within Cuba's dissident community, denounced the Cuban church for appeasing a regime that routinely crushes dissent and continues to restrict the church. …

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