Cuba, But Not Its People, Still Gives the Church Short Shrift

Parish Life Growing, 5 Years After Papal Visit

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HAVANA, JAN. 17, 2003 ( Five years after the historic visit by John Paul II, Cuba still treats the Church as if it were a private entity, says the archbishop of Havana.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino lamented the lack of change in Church-state relations in Latin America’s only Communist nation.

Inaugurating an exhibition commemorating the 1998 papal visit, the cardinal last weekend noted that the press covers the Pope and the Holy See, but not the local Church.

The papal visit had raised hopes that Fidel Castro would adopt policies more open to the Church, permitting it, for instance, to broadcast television programs and open centers of learning.

But «no type of political reform has been carried out,» said Cardinal Ortega.

The papal visit did, however, help the Church become less mysterious to the Cubans, the cardinal said. In the past the Communists had branded it «counterrevolutionary,» he said.

The visit «gave life and strength to the Church in Cuba,» the archbishop added.

«Houses of prayers for the faithful have opened in neighborhoods that have no churches,» he said. «Here in Havana at least 250 houses which we call ‘mission houses’ have opened, some made into true parishes.»

The cardinal also noted the recent greeting John Paul II gave to Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá.

Payá, founder of the Christian Movement of Liberation, met the Pope briefly at last week’s general audience in the Vatican.

The papal greeting was a gesture to «a lay Catholic consistent with his ideas,» Cardinal Ortega said.

«Yet,» he added, «the Church doesn’t support any political project, but rather the freedom of conscience.»

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