Pope’s visit to Cuba shines light on religious freedoms

Pope John Paul II’s 1998 landmark visit to Cuba left evangelical pastors all over the island wondering aloud: What about us?

Thanks to the pope’s trip, within a year the growing evangelical religious community made history of its own by holding 18 public services around the nation attended by thousands of people — including then-leader Fidel Castro. Even now more than a decade later the televised “Evangelical Celebration” is still considered a watershed moment for Cuban Protestants.

But many others still struggle under a controlling regime to find the space to worship and question whether the pope’s visit resulted in any real progress.

“Everyone went to that celebration waiting for religious sermons, and they got political sermons. Even Fidel Castro looked embarrassed,” said Carlos Lamelas, a Church of God pastor who fled to Texas last summer after butting heads with the government for years. “I hope now that after the new pope’s visit, Evangelical churches can come into their own.”

Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Cuba March 26-28 to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the island’s patron saint, which was found floating in the bay of Nipe. The last pope’s visit was considered fundamental in the history of Cuba’s Catholic Church, capping years of modest reforms and paving the way for prisoner releases.

The preparations being made for Pope Benedict raise the issue for the estimated 800,000 Protestants whether non-Catholic churches will benefit from his trip. Pastors and religious experts in Cuba say they hope the pope’s stop will provide the momentum to bring up long-standing issues troubling Protestants, such as the ability to build temples and have their religious rights spelled out in law. [More]


Miami Herald