I’m always on the look-out for interesting reporting on the intersections of faith and social/economic/cultural/political trends in Latin America, so a headline like this really grabs my attention: God and Profits: How the Catholic Church Is Making A Comeback in Cuba. It’s from Tim Padgett in TIME and it takes a look at the resurgence of the Catholic Church and the looming questions about what role it will play in Cuba’s very uncertain future:
The church is discovering that being the first — and only — alternative institution to the Cuban revolution is both a blessing and a curse. As President Raúl Castro, who took over for his ailing older brother Fidel in 2008, tries to engineer politically perilous economic reforms in his severely cash-strapped nation, he seems to have decided the church is the only noncommunist entity he can trust to aid those transitions without seriously challenging his rule. Speaking to the National Assembly in August, Raúl even offered a mea culpa for decades of blacklisting “Cubans with religious beliefs.”
Some accuse the Church leadership of turning a blind eye to the Castros’ human rights abuses, while others just say it’s moving too slowly. Padgett makes a good point about tempering perhaps impossibly lofty expectations: the Catholic Church in Cuba wasn’t particularly strong even before the revolution in 1959, at which point Fidel Castro declared Cuba atheist, so any change in the country led by the Church will take some time. The fact that it exists as the “only alternative institution to the Cuban revolution” is itself an accomplishment.
But Cuba is changing. Raúl Castro has begun easing economic restrictions and entrepreneurs are finally enjoying some breathing room. Most recently, the sales of cars are finally allowed. Additionally, Padgett reports that a large international Catholic charity stands by, ready to do its part if the decades-long feud between Cuba and the US doesn’t stop it:
Caritas hopes to launch a micro-loan project to help Cubans grow beyond timbiriches — tiny informal businesses, like vendors of homemade sweets, that the Castros have allowed since the 1990s — to enterprises that can absorb the almost 20% of the state workforce facing layoffs. If Havana and Washington permit it, nonprofit groups in the U.S. and Europe tell TIME they’re set to channel tens of millions of dollars to Caritas for a micro-loan fund. “My last hope is the church,” says Roque, a thin, middle-aged former Cuban soldier who was among the throng welcoming Our Lady of Charity to Havana in September. “They help with extra food and are sending me to computer lessons.”
I hope Caritas will be allowed to do its work and that the Cuban government continues to ease restrictions in general. For its part, I hope the US does away with the embargo. And I hope and pray that the rising evangelical church in Cuba becomes a full participant in the making of a more just, more joyful future for all Cubans.