NEW LAW FORCES CLOSURE OF
AT LEAST THREE
By Jeremy Reynalds
January 9, 2006
ENGLAND (ANS) -- A British-based
human rights organization has learned that at least three Protestant
churches have been forcibly closed in Cuba after harsh legislation on
house churches was announced in 2005.
Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that two of the churches, in the
western provinces of Guantanamo and Holguin, were forcibly closed. The
first was confiscated by local authorities in August and the other
threatened with demolition at the end of last year.
A third church, in a suburb of Havana, was demolished at the end of
last year while church members looked on. To justify their closure, CSW
reported in a news release, all of the churches were targeted by the
authorities as being “illegal constructions.”
The new legislation, Directive 43 and Resolution 46, was announced in
April in the wake of Pope John Paul II's funeral, CSW reported, and
required all house churches to register with the authorities.
Church leaders expressed their concern at the time that the
registration process was so complicated as to be practically
impossible. CSW reported that many church leaders believed this was
really an attempt to shut down the house church movement across Cuba.
CSW stated that the organization is very concerned that the three
church closures seem to suggest that a new wave of repression of
religious freedom could be on the horizon. It is possible that
additional churches have also met with a similar fate, CSW reported,
but because of security concerns regarding communication in Cuba, this
has been impossible to verify.
Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, said in a news release, “We
learned of these church closures, confiscation and demolition with deep
concern. We are calling on the international community to strongly
discourage the Cuban government from taking any more measures that
would restrict the rights of the Cuban people to meet and worship
together. In addition, we call upon the Cuban government to return
those buildings that have already been confiscated, allow for the
re-opening of those that have been shut down, and authorise the
reconstruction of the church that has already been demolished.”
One of the major problems faced by Cuban churches, CSW commented, is
the difficulty of building, restoring and maintaining religious
buildings and places of worship where they can hold services. Current
Cuban government policy allows only officially recognized church
services in buildings that were constructed prior to the 1959
The construction of a new church, CSW reported, as well as enlarging or
renovating existing churches, requires government authorization, which
is often given only arbitrarily - if at all. Churches belonging to the
government- sanctioned, Cuban Council of Churches are an exception and
are often readily granted permission to renovate and build.
Because many churches have grown in the last decade, CSW reported, most
existing church buildings are too small to accommodate all their
members. The logical alternative for many of these churches has been
the establishment of house churches which explains, in part, the
expansion of the house church movement across Cuba. There are now an
estimated 10,000 - 15,000 house churches across the island, with each
accommodating somewhere between 30 and 200 worshipers meeting weekly.
Existing buildings (those built prior to the Revolution), CSW reported,
are often over 100 years old and desperately in need of renovation and
repair, but official permission is hard to get. However, CSW reported,
many churches have gone ahead without seeking permission, renovating
and expanding the church facilities as much as finances allow until
they are explicitly prohibited from doing so by the government.
Some churches have also built new structures, another practice that has
been tolerated by the government until now, CSW stated. However,
churches are in a constantly precarious legal position, and are
vulnerable to the now very present threat of crippling fines, closure
or even demolition.
Photos of the church demolition in Alamar, Cuba (a suburb of Havana)
are available at www.noticiacristiana.com/news/newDetails.php?idnew=81709&country=0.
Click on “Ver Galeria de Fotos.”
CSW is a human rights organization which works on behalf of those
persecuted for their Christian beliefs.
For more information, please visit www.csw.org.uk
|Jeremy Reynalds is a
freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New
Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, http://www.joyjunction.org or http://www.christianity.com/joyjunction.
He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New
Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in
Los Angeles. He has five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at email@example.com. Tel: (505)
877-6967 or (505) 400-7145. Note: A black and white JPEG picture of
Jeremy Reynalds is available on request from Dan Wooding at firstname.lastname@example.org.