Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba showcases the island’s Roman Catholic recovery after half a century of communism.
But that narrative is misleading. In reality, Catholicism wasn’t all that vibrant in Cuba before communism.
You might not have believed that if you watched South Florida’s Cuban Catholics last week hold their annual procession for Cuba’s patron saint. Men in straw peasant sombreros carried a statue of the Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Charity through Bank United Center in Coral Gables — a prelude to Monday, when Francis will pray at Our Lady of Charity’s actual shrine near Santiago, in southeast Cuba.
La Virgen de la Caridad, as she’s called in Spanish, is supposed to symbolize the island’s Catholic roots — which Fidel Castro and his communist revolution tore out in the 1960s. Castro declared Cuba an atheist state in 1961, shutting down Catholic schools and exiling hundreds of priests.
Cubans like 32-year-old Carlos Hernández heard that political dogma growing up. “In school,” Hernández recalls, “they described the church like an enemy of the human race.”
Tim Padgett is WLRN’s Americas editor. To read the rest of this column, click here.