ACN News, Monday, 23rd March 2009 – CUBA
Let work commence!
Church repair plan wins surprise government backing
By John Pontifex
BELEAGUERED Catholics in Cuba have achieved an unprecedented break-through after the regime agreed plans for the renovation of four churches in the capital.
In a country where church-building applications can be delayed by several years or more, the government approval of major repairs to four key churches in Havana is being hailed as one of the best signals yet of improving links between Catholic leaders and Raul Castro’s year-old administration.
Just weeks after the plans were approved, Aid to the Church in Need, the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, has given $120,000 towards the total cost of the repair work.
The buildings that will be renovated include some of the Catholic Church’s oldest structures in Cuba – dating back to the mid-18th century – classic examples of the famous Spanish colonial design.
Chief among them is Havana’s Guira de Melena Church which needs urgent repairs to the roof – a project considered to be a priority by the bishops.
Another concerns St Joseph of Lidice’s Chapel which requires major plastering work, new doors and windows as well as re-wiring and toilets.
The oldest of the four structures to be repaired is the parish church of St Francis Xavier, which needs a complete make-over, including retiling work, replacement of wooden beams as well as replastering and painting in a job requiring extensive scaffolding.
More renovation work will take place at the Church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Havana’s Guanabacoa district.
It was built in 1960 in the middle of the two-year period between the communist take-over of Cuba and Fidel Castro’s crackdown on the Church.
One of the Cuban churches due for renovation
A spokesman for Aid to the Church in Need said: “The fact that these repair plans – long in the making – have received the green light represents a major step forward for Church-state relations.
“It shows that since Raul Castro replaced his brother, Fidel, as president, a new relationship is beginning to emerge with the Church, one in which Catholics – and Christians in general – are no longer automatically seen as enemies of the state. Obviously, there is a long way to go still, but this gives grounds for hope.”
He added: “It is vital that Aid to the Church in Need stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the faithful in Cuba so that when opportunities arise such as this, the bishops can turn to us, confident of our readiness to help.”
The approval to renovate the four churches follows earlier signs of changing government attitudes towards the Church.
In February 2008, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone opened the first completely new church building approved by the authorities in recent times – a bishop’s house and curial offices for the diocese of Guantanamo, which was established 10 years ago.
The new buildings signalled new hope nearly 30 years after Fidel Castro forced many priests and religious into exile and confiscated church buildings, the vast majority of which are still in government hands.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 45 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: email@example.com or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org