Religion in Cuba: Diverse, Vibrant, and Dynamic

If you had asked me in July 2013 (when Secretary Kerry’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs was established) about religious communities in Cuba, I might have spoken about the country’s deeply historical Catholic roots as a result of its colonial past or about the seemingly muted religious identities of its citizens. However, on July 6-7 of this year, I had the great privilege to travel to Cuba, during which I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the vibrancy, dynamism, and diversity of the country’s religious communities.

This trip was only possible because of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba almost exactly one year ago. During my brief visit, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives from a broad array of Cuban religious communities. In addition to meeting with leadership from the Cuban Catholic Church, I listened to the successes and concerns of representatives from a number of religious traditions: Baptist, Evangelical, Presbyterian, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Assemblies of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Santeria, and Protestant house churches. 

These rich conversations, part of the people-to-people engagement that the Administration has sought to support and strengthen between the United States and Cuba, helped broaden the State Department’s understanding of the religious history, dynamics, demographics, and growth trends, as well as continued challenges in Cuba.

I appreciated learning more about the role and resilience of religious communities in Cuban society, and hearing their views that the religious climate in Cuba has improved over the past decade and a half. Some challenges still exist for Cuban religious communities, and the U.S. government remains convinced that religious groups would be best served by a genuine democracy that includes an ability to freely profess and practice a religion (or no religion at all). My interlocutors acknowledged that change is a process that will not happen overnight, but that progress is happening. 

What struck me most from my discussions was the positive response from Cubans toward the process of normalization of relations with the United States, and the Cuba religious leaders I met were optimistic about the potential of normalized relations with the United States. There was also an understanding of the power of relationships, and the ties between the United States and Cuba. As one woman said, “If you are Cuban, you have at least one cousin in the United States.” It was clear from my interactions that many Cubans are appreciative of efforts made by the U.S. government to re-establish diplomatic relations, and eager for people-to-people connections to continue to strengthen and flourish between their country and the United States. The religious leaders I met are hopeful about the possibility of building bridges with the United States, hopeful that their religious communities continue to thrive, and hopeful for the future of Cuba in the coming decade. 

About the Author: Shaun Casey serves as  the U.S. Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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Comments

Ed C.
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Minnesota, USA
July 25, 2016
While I am Presbyterian, as moderator for Living Waters for the World in Cuba, we deal with many more denominations than noted. We install clean water systems in faith communities throughout the island. In addition to those noted in the article, there are active denominations of Episcopalians, Soldiers of the Cross, Quakers, Seventh Day Adventist (with more than 350 churches from Guantanamo to Pinar del Rio), Methodist and Piños Nuevos (unique to Cuba). Thank you for the article and for noting many Protestant denominations. I wanted to let it be known there are many more active faith communities in the Christian faith, in Cuba, than even the article suggested.
A view of Havana from the capitol dome in Cuba.
Posted by Shaun Casey
July 19, 2016

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