Cuba Posing New Obstacles for Church

Send Missionaries “Unthinkable,” Says Aid-Group Official

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HAVANA, JULY 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- New winds of repression are blowing against religious liberty and the Catholic presence in Cuba.

Four years after John Paul II’s visit, the situation in the island nation has markedly deteriorated, says Attilio Tamburrini, director of the Italian section of the Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need.

“After the enthusiasm that followed the Pope’s visit, today we are once again faced with a hostile climate toward the initiatives of the Church,” Tamburrini told the Misna news agency.

“The sending of new missionaries is unthinkable, after the 40 priests who arrived in 1998, and [their] exclusion from access to the media, to schools and to public places,” he added.

The Pope’s trip led to the recognition of Christmas as a feast day, to the authorization of a certain number of religious processions, and to the start of some initiatives of formation of the local clergy.

Pressure exerted by the U.S. government, particularly since President George W. Bush took office, and rumors of the worsening state of health of Fidel Castro, have led to a gradual hardening of Communism toward all attempts at reform.

“Sectors of the Catholic Church, in particular, have supported the movement of opposition to the regime, known as the Varela Plan, which tried to propose a referendum in the country to introduce a multiparty system and some reforms in the area of civil rights,” said Tamburrini. Among the areas of reform, he said, are freedom of expression and of meeting, electoral reform, and amnesty for political prisoners.

The initiative, backed by Bush, foundered after Cuba’s approval of a constitutional amendment June 27 establishing “the irrevocability of the Socialist regime.”

“It must not be forgotten that the Pope’s visit in 1998 gave the Church enormous visibility at the local level,” Tamburrini explained.

“For the time being,” he added, “the greatest hopes are in the formation of new priests in the island, who at present number about 300, compared to the 600 that existed before the Castro revolution of 1959.”

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