Cuban bishop praises, government announces crackdown on home-based churches

.- Just one day after Bishop Alfredo Victor Petit Vergel of San Cristobal de la Habana, Cuba, who is currently in Rome for the General Synod of Bishops, praised much-needed, home-based churches which meet in his country for Mass and worship, Cubans are now expecting a government crackdown on religious meetings in private homes. The wide-sweeping regulations could curtail Catholic and Evangelical worship services indefinitely.

The bishop said yesterday in his Synod address that, "In spite of the lack of priests, we have enormous esteem for the Eucharist and it is celebrated with great respect for liturgical norms."

"Faced with the difficulty and the practical impossibility of constructing new churches," he said, however, "we have what are known as 'prayer houses' or 'mission houses' located in suburbs, in small villages and in country homes where each week, or as often as they can, small groups of faithful, not more than 40, gather together under the guidance of a committed lay person, a religious or a deacon. The priest comes to these houses and Mass is celebrated with great devotion and respect for liturgical norms, care being taken to ensure sacramental Confession for those who ... wish to participate in the Eucharistic bread."

The new governmental restrictions were announced in April of this year, but their implementation is expected this month.

Services that have not been authorized by the government are now banned, and organizers of approved services must submit the names of and signed approval from all owners of the house. Likewise, the days and times when services are to be held and the number of worshippers must also be given.

The government will also require disclosure of the full name and place of residence of the pastor and details on their theological education.

The regulations also allow for no more than one church of any one denomination existing within two kilometers (1.25 miles) of each other. Foreigners cannot attend house churches in mountainous areas, and they are required to obtain specific permission to attend churches elsewhere.

Violations will lead to the house being closed and both the leader and the foreigner being fined a 1000$.

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