"It's distinct because ... it's not a neutral place," he said of the homes in which Mass is offered. "The place is small, there is no silence (for reflection). People get distracted. The neighbor plays music, or they are talking. And there's the unpleasant smell of pigs."
Yes, pigs. The worshipper who offered up a home for Mass raises swine, and that isn't a clean or quiet task.
Then, there are the secret agents who attend services, Santana said, citing word from his followers.
"They view us as a threat," the diminutive priest said. Of particular concern, he said, is any message against abortion, a central tenet of the church.
Cuba officially was an atheist state until a constitutional change in 1992 that declared the nation secular. Abortion is a state-provided service, along with inexpensive birth control offered at state companies. It's an issue that government officials do not welcome discussion on, and Santana said he's twice been the subject of complaints to his superiors from government minders.
The long history of official state atheism led many Cubans to reject religion or practice it in hiding since it could cost them their livelihood. Today the state tolerates greater expression of religion but people are still nervously flirting with a formal relationship with the church.
"It's like we are starting over," said Santana, who noted last year was the first time in 53 years that the church was allowed to send the statue of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre — Cuba's patron saint — to parishes across all of Cuba
"People want to express their religiosity but have not been sufficiently able," he said.
Cuba's Roman Catholic leaders say being allowed to build new churches, rather than just restore ones that are in varying degrees of ruin, would be a start. So would be allowing the church to offer education in parallel with public schools, or having some exposure to religious tenets in schools.
But Benedict's recent visit, while raising the profile of the church through huge outdoor church services, did not conclude with any promises of further liberalization. Relations between church and state have improved, but for the operational side of church activities not so much still.
"In the concrete, there has not been an opening," he lamented.
Will that change after the death of the ailing Fidel Castro, 85, or his brother Raul, who'll turn 81 in June?
"That's the million-dollar question," said Alfredo, 47, a Jehovah's Witness in Havana who practiced his faith clandestinely for most of his life but now is more public about his beliefs.
Jehovah's Witnesses, known for going door-to-door to preach their faith, have been allowed large temporary assemblies in Cuba but like the Catholic Church are prohibited from building new churches. They must conduct services in makeshift fashion. Concerned about retribution, Alfredo asked that his surname not be used.
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