Churches find way to witness in Cuba, says WCC leader

June 1, 2011

As Cuba moves toward a post-Fidel Castro society, its churches are
finding ways to "give a Christian witness with integrity" in a country
that places restrictions on areas of life such as free expression, said
the general secretary of the World Council of Churches after a visit to
the Caribbean island.

Relations between religious groups and a
government that was officially atheist at its beginning in 1959 have
warmed somewhat, said Olav Fyske Tveit on June 1 at the WCC headquarters
in Geneva.

Tveit led a WCC delegation on a six-day trip to Cuba
ending May 30 and celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Cuban Council
of Churches. The group visited an ecumenical seminary and met with
Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

Cuban president Raúl Castro, 79, attended
the worship service at the Episcopal cathedral and told WCC visitors
that "we need your blessings more than ever." Raúl's brother Fidel, 84,
ruled Cuba from 1959 until his retirement in 2008.

Catholics
constitute about 70 percent of the population of 11.4 million, according
to Catholic officials, while Protestants make up about 6 percent. Cuba
also has evangelical, Pentecostal and Orthodox churches and many
followers of beliefs with African roots, such as Santería.

Tveit
noted that church groups in North America are "strong advocates of
liberalization of U.S. policy" on family visits, travel and lifting the
U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba.

"I saw very clearly the
connection between the church in Cuba and the global ecumenical
movement," Tveit said. "What is significant for them is support and the
sense of a wide fellowship at times of restricted communication with the
outside world."  —ENInews