Ray Sanchez - firstname.lastname@example.org
The frankness of his message, delivered in a province known as the birthplace of the Castro brothers' revolution and with Defense Minister
Meurice was a quiet, reclusive prelate, and many religious leaders hoped that the reaction to his words and the pope's visit portended a new role for the Roman Catholic Church in socialist
Now 75 and retired here in his native city, Meurice said hopes for improved church-state relations have been dashed. In the intervening years, he said, the state has quietly stripped the church of gains that came with the historic 1998 visit.
"In the end, we have not accomplished what we're entitled to; the Catholic Church has not been granted the right to evangelize and spread without fear of losing its religious freedom," Meurice said in a recent interview.
In the year since President Fidel Castro has been ill and out of the public eye, analysts and religious leaders point to the fate of a popular Catholic magazine and civics workshops in the western city of Pinar del Rio as dramatic examples of tighter church control.
The most recent blow came earlier this month when the Diocese of Pinar del
Serpa, who was in
"What has happened with Vitral and the civic center … demonstrates that significant restrictions are now being applied," Valdes said. "I'm being prudent in using the word 'restrictions.' I think these services are being eliminated."
After the 1959 revolution,
Many Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits hoped Pope John Paul II's arrival on the island would have the same result as an earlier visit to his native Poland – to spark the collapse of communism. But the Polish church was strong and organized, while
Around the time of the papal visit, there were small strides: the state legalized Christmas as a goodwill gesture to the pope; missionary efforts in rural areas increased; religious processions returned to the streets; and proselytizers were allowed to spread the Gospel from door to door.
But the transcendent changes many expected never materialized. A decade later, Masses are sparsely attended except on major holidays like Christmas and the September feast of Our Lady of Charity,
No new churches have been built in
The government has denied the church access to the Internet and strictly limited access to state-controlled media. Earlier this month, for the first time since the revolution,
"At the outset, when the Cuban president fell ill, some believed that an internal crisis would arise," he told the Spanish newspaper El Pais. "The bishops made a vote that no outside interference or any type of internal crisis should alter the peace and the coexistence." Ortega and his spokesman were unavailable for further comment.
A Cuban government official familiar with church-state relations said recent changes in the church were "strictly internal matters."
"The state had no influence on their decisions," he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment officially to a foreign journalist.
Meurice said: "Below the surface, very little has changed. While the state is no longer officially atheist, there is still only one party, the Communist Party."