A new church in Cuba after years of persecution

IglesiaDeSan BenitoCuba 290920 The Church of San Benito Abad in San Benito del Crucero, Cuba. | Facebook Misioneros Claretianos en Songo - La Maya.

The recent construction and dedication of a church building in Cuba represents a "small miracle", according to the Claretian priest who led the project for years.

San Benito Abad church was consecrated Aug. 29 by Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez of Santiago de Cuba. It is located in San Benito del Crucero, fewer than 20 miles northeast of Santiago de Cuba.

It is one of the first churches to be built in Cuba since the country's revolution.

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista.

Under communism churches and schools were closed, and priests were exiled or assigned to re-education camps. The Church was driven underground until religious tensions in the country began to ease in 1991. St. John Paul II then visited the island in 1998.

Fr. Juventino Rodríguez told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language news partner, that the "small miracle" of the construction of San Benito Abad was possible thanks to a great commitment and enthusiasm to strengthening the growth of the Catholic community.

Fr. Rodríguez explained that the project required years of "patient waiting" on the part of the Catholic community, which had to develop Church life in mission houses that the faithful themselves made available since their church building was confiscated.

A church had been built in San Benito del Crucero in the 1950s, but it was confiscated by the government after the revolution.

For many years, Fr. Rodriguez said, "everything was paralyzed and dead", until Dulce María Guilarte offered her home for church life in January 1996, and "since then there have always been catecheses, celebrations of the Eucharist, and baptisms."

The Claretian priest said that the church life of the San Benito community was strengthened thanks to the mission houses that other faithful also made available for many years.

He especially recognized Vivian Cobas Ayala, whose house "was where the community spent the longest time developing its life and mission." That house was destroyed in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, however, and until the August dedication of the new church the community met at the home of another faithful Catholic, Concha Ayala.

Cobas and her children donated the land, which previously had a mission house on it, for the new church, which has a pastoral center in the basement.

Fr. Rodríguez said the new church was built in two years, although construction was stopped due to force majeure for more than eight months. The archdiocese managed to contact a family from Chicago who took on the financing, although the entire Church in Cuba collaborated in some way to achieve the goal.

"Recognizing all those who aided in the construction of the new church of San Benito del Crucero is not easy. It was always the dream of the community, of the missionaries and of the
Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba," he said.

Amid the joy over the new church, Fr. Rodríguez said that many Cubans consider it an act of  "'heroism' to approach and enter the church."

After the revolution, the Church, worship, and public expressions of religion were prohibited, "and until not many years ago that continued. All this has had a lasting impact in people, because it had negative consequences in their academic, work, and social life".

"And although now that has been overcome legally … people haven't forgotten it and continue to have fears and are cautious. Unfortunately, entering a church still has many social disadvantages and it's not easy to overcome them," he stressed.

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However, Fr. Rodríguez said that from now on, "surely it will not be so difficult to find room for encounter, coexistence, formation and development in which the entire population can participate. It's a great challenge for the community."

"With the new church and with the San Benito Pastoral Center a new stage in the life of the community opens that augurs new hopes for evangelization," he concluded.

Sacred Heart of Jesus parish near Pinar del Rio, the first new Catholic church in Cuba since the the country's revolution 60 years ago, was inaugurated in January 2019. It was to be the first of three new parishes, with the others in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.

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