News and Facts about Cuba

Cuba Returns Catholic Church Properties

Cuba Returns Catholic Church Properties
May 2, 2014
By José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas

HAVANA TIMES — The return of property from the churches seized by the
Cuban government after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 is more and
more a fact.

“At this time, the correct word is ‘process,’ because it is an
initiative begun some years ago that has not stopped,” says from Havana
Msgr. José Félix Pérez, associate secretary of the Conference of
Catholic Bishops of Cuba.

“With this step we can rehabilitate places for services and pastoral
action in cities where the religious communities had to meet in private
homes or uncomfortable spaces,” the prelate says. “Thus, we have gotten
back chapels and temples in Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo, Camagüey and
Havana, in addition to Cienfuegos.”

“In the past 50 years, the Catholic Church has not had the wherewithal
to build new temples and places of worship, so we greet this decision
with much gratitude, because it is a way to recognize that the Church
needs these sites (buildings and spaces) and that, with those acts, a
better relationship between Church and State is enabled,” Pérez says.

Father Ignacio Cruz Magariño was born just across the street from the
old College of the Jesuit Fathers, an iconic building in the city of
Cienfuegos, 240 kilometers southeast of Havana.

According to him, although the did not function as such since the
1940s, in 1961 it was “nationalized” by virtue of a law that made all
learning centers in Cuba public schools and turned over the buildings to
the Ministry of .

As a member of the Society of Jesus and the priest assigned to the
temple, Ignacio participated in several requests and conversations held
since the 1960s. The talks led to the reacquisition of parts of the
building until the Church regained it fully in November 2013.

“There is no document that certifies the turnover, but it has been
effective because, a few weeks later, the offices and warehouses of
state-run entities that occupied the ground floor were moved to other
sites,” Cruz Magariño says.

Something similar occurred with the home of the parish priest in nearby
Palmira, for many years utilized as a public library, and with the
chapels in some sugar mills, according to the bishop of the Diocese of
Cienfuegos/Trinidad, Domingo Oropesa Lorente.

“I think that they are very positive acts on the part of the
authorities, and we understand that in time everything that was part of
the Church’s patrimony will be returned. In Cienfuegos, there is also
interest in returning part of the old college of the Dominicans,” says
the monsignor, who sees in the return of the real estate a favorable
step, especially for society.

“The cathedral is of no use for me alone. It is a space for the people,
who can live their faith there. So it will be with the college of the
Jesuits. It won’t be just for the four or five priests who live inside,”
he says.

Sources close to the authorities were reluctant to speak on the subject,
because they say it’s a process still not made official by a legal
ruling that replaces the abovementioned “law of nationalization.”

Off the record, the sources said that the decision will benefit not only
the Catholic Church but also other religious institutions that owned
property and buildings at the time of the Revolution.

That possibility could not be confirmed by the Council of Churches of
Cuba, an organization that includes most of the Protestant congregations
in the country.

Nevertheless, the scant information available about this process elicits
moderate expectations in some members of congregations affiliated with
the Council, such as the Anglican Church.

Halbert Pons, Episcopal Church priest in Santiago de Cuba, believes that
it will be difficult for many of the buildings to be returned because
they’re being used as public schools.

But he recognizes that there is an open channel of communications to
obtain grants of land formerly owned by his church that, for various
reasons, have been used by the Cuban State in Sola, Camagüey province,
and Boquerón, Guantánamo province.

At the Catholic Church, no one can throw much light on the return of
sites or the issuance of construction permits for other religious
congregations. “I think something is going on, too, but I have little
information about it,” says secretary José Félix Pérez.

“With us, everything has happened through verbal assurances that later
become reality in the municipalities. They give us spoken guarantees
that we’ll be able to use again what once was ours,” the priest says.

With obvious enthusiasm, Father Ignacio, a master craftsman in the
Society of Jesus, looks at the city block on which he hopes to rebuild.
“This was a ‘realengo’ [state-owned land],” he says. “We just removed
more than 45 truckloads of garbage because for years people thought this
was a dump.”

“We know that many years will pass before we can inaugurate the house of
spiritual practice that we want,” the priest says. “We’ll have to
demolish some sections but the building is salvageable. Despite the
theft of beams, floor tiles and carpentry, the walls are quite strong.
Now we’re looking into the needed capital, because a million-dollar
restoration is not something we can do in a few days. Besides, that kind
of money will not be available at one time.”

“What’s past is past,” Father Ignacio says. “The present is encouraging
to all. Not only because we have an opportunity to fulfill our dream of
helping create healthy minds and spirituality, but also because the city
will regain a very valuable building.”

Source: Cuba Returns Catholic Church Properties – Havana –

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