Religion runs through
Key dates in the relationship between
Catholicism and Cuba's Communist Party.
(Adapted from original MSNBC article
by Miguel Llanos.
Additional information by Roberto Solera.)
After years of shaping Cuba as an atheist
state, Fidel Castro has started to make some room for religion
on the island. The question now: Just how much room will he give
it? "Are you priests? Confessors? Those are my intimate affairs
and I donít accept that you have me make that kind of public confession,"
he responded to reporters who asked if he believes in God. He
refused to say if he believes in God be it the God of
Christianity or that of the Afro-Cuban religion known as Santeria.
"Are you priests? Confessors?" Castro replied when foreign reporters
asked him that a week before the popes visit. "Those are
my intimate affairs and I dont accept that you have me
make that kind of public confession.
"I can say one thing," Castro added.
"I respect those who believe and those who do not believe. If
you say you do not believe, you offend those who believe. If you
say you believe, you offend those who do not believe. In a way
you make yourself a preacher. I am not a preacher."
So, instead of preaching, he has sent
signals over several years now that hes
willing to make some room for religion in Cuba.
Looking at how and some possible reasons
why offers insights into just how deep Fidels faith might
A LIFE WITH RELIGION
1932-45: Jesuit schools Castro spent more time with Catholic
priests in his youth than most people do in a lifetime. The son
of a Spanish peasant turned wealthy landowner, Castro went to religious
boarding schools, first with Marist brothers from age 6-9 and then
two Jesuit schools until age 18.
Castro is the first to admit he wasnt a model student,
and even boasts of how he pummelled a Marist priest once.
And he has told interviewers that priests were never able
to engrain a religious faith in him. Yet he has also praised the
Jesuit system for its spirit of discipline and for
having formed people of character.
Indeed, it turns out that many of Fidels fellow rebels
were educated by Jesuits in cities around Cuba. His recollections
of those years can be contradictory. He has noted his fascination
with the Bible and its parables but also claimed he lost
many years to superstitions and lies.
And while he claims those school years helped him hone his
political skills, he never pursued a cause even though the Cuba
of those years was a cauldron of instability. His focus, he has
told interviewers, was on sports and good grades.
Imagine a college campus where students wore guns because
of killings between rival political parties. That was Havana University
as lived by Castro, who until then had led the disciplined student
life of the Jesuits.
That environment also required one to take political sides.
Initially, and ironically, Castros first foray was with
a Catholic student faction against the Communists. At
that time Castro and Communist leaders had a mutual mistrust.
He later maneuvered between parties before settling into a nationalist,
Castro graduated in 1950, and by 1953 had begun an armed
uprising, attacking the Moncada military barracks. It was only
then that the church reappeared in Castros life. Heres
a quick rundown of events where Castro and religion have mixed
1953: Bishop Enrique Perez Serantes, a Castro family friend,
helps spare Fidel and his brother Raul from the death penalty
for attacking the Moncada barracks.
1957: Several priests join the rebel army as chaplains.
1959: Victorious Castro marches into Havana wearing a chain
around his neck showing Cubas patron saint, the Virgin
of Charity. A victorious Fidel Castro is interviewed on NBC's
"Meet the Press" back in February 1959 (10 minutes) National Catholic
Congress gathers tens of thousands in the Plaza of the Revolution;
Castro attends. Speakers praise Castros overthrow of Fulgencio
Batista dictatorship but criticize communism, class struggle and
1960: Pastoral letter by Cuban bishops praises the idea of
social reforms but warns against communism.
1961: Three priests are among the Bay of Pigs invaders captured
by Cuba. Militia occupy a number of churches and briefly imprison
leaders suspected of favoring the invasion. Castro announces that
the revolution is socialist, later elaborates that it is Marxist-Leninist.
A large march organized by the church is broken up by police.
More than 100 priests are expelled; 460 others leave on their
own within the first three years of revolution. All private and
religious schools are closed, except for seminaries. Catholic
Church unveils Operation Peter Pan, encouraging
parents to send their children abroad for schooling.
1962: Fidel Castro reveals details of the government's education
program in a 1962 TV broadcast to the nation. Constitution
modified to make Cuba an atheist state, an action that bans religious
Cubans from many jobs.
(The following note is added by correspondent Roberto Solera:)
The MSNBC version is mistaken. The Constitution was never revised
in 1962 to say that Cuba had an atheist government. The 1940 Constitution
was reformed and changed into Ley Fundamental in 1959 (they just
amended some articles). We had to wait till 1976 for the Constitution
to be reformed. In that one that affirmation was made.
Another thing "school were not closed,"
they were "nationalized" in the sense of making them public and
kept, in general, like schools run by the government. Some were
transformed into Technical Schools or into Techical Institutes
(examples of the former, Maristas in Rancho Boyeros Highway and
of the latter Colegio Belen, first made "Hnos Gomez" Institute
and later on made a military school for cadres. Also Candler College
and Buenavista --all male the first, all female the latter, Protestant
institutions) made Amistad Cubano-Sovietica Technical School.
1968: Conference of Latin American bishops endorses a form
of liberation theology, which endorses liberating man from unjust
1969: Cubas bishops condemn the U.S. embargo.
1971: Meeting with religious figures in Chile, Castro describes
similarities between Christians and revolutionaries.
1979: Pope John Paul II denounces U.S. embargo on Cuba; declines
Castro invitation to visit Cuba on his way back to Vatican from
Mexico. Cuba TV shows Castro attending a Methodist service with
the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Catholic leaders attend, later arrange
for U.S. bishops to start visits. TV coverage leads some religious
Cubans to feel more comfortable showing their faith.
1985: Castro describes religions impact on his life
in a booklength interview with Brazilian priest Frei Betto, a
liberation theologian. He insists he has nothing against the religious,
just the use of religious institutions to foment political unrest.
Declares that fellow rebel Ernesto Che Guevara probably
would have been made a saint if he had been a Catholic
since he had all the virtues.
1985: Castro mingles with Catholic bishops from abroad at
the home of the Vatican envoy to Cuba.
1986: Cuban Church holds its first national meeting since
the 1959 revolution.
1988: Bishop Ted McCarrick of Newark and five other clergymen
meet Castro in a Havana government office; McCarrick leads prayer.
1991: Communist Party drops ban on membership by Christians.
1992: Constitution amended to make Cuba secular rather than
1993: Cuban bishops attacked by state media after they express
concerns about economy and call for more open political system.
1994: Cuba expels several U.S.-based religious charities
as they gain popularity.
1995: Communist Party document makes Catholic Church a social
1996:Cuban President Fidel Castro shakes hands with Pope
John Paul II at the Vatican during their first-ever meeting, Nov.
19, 1996, calling the event a miracle and inviting
the pope to Cuba.
1997: In November, Castro asks Protestant leaders to pray
for Cubas economic recovery. Christmas celebrated as an
official holiday for first time in nearly three decades, in honor
of the popes visit.
1998: The Pope visits Cuba.