2016-06-08

Dios Vive: God Lives

It took decades before there was room for God in the Revolution, so scrawling "God lives," (here seen on the street in Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city) once could have gotten you in a lot of trouble, especially in a country where just about all the graffiti is government propaganda. But in the early 90s, Fidel Castro – who had nationalized Catholic churches that he saw as being in cahoots with the ruling class – began allowing some religious freedoms.

Russian Orthodox Church

There are very few Russian Orthodox people in Cuba, but the beautiful Church of Our Lady of Kazan, the first in Cuba, was consecrated in October 2008. Fidel Castro called it "a monument to Cuban-Russian friendship." The former Soviet Union helped keep the Cuban economy afloat with subsidies and trade deals, but the Soviet collapse strained Russian-Cuban relations and left Cuba in economic ruin. The building of this church is a symbol that a thaw is clearly underway.

Rastafarians in Havana

Some young, black Cubans are drawn to Rastafarianism, the religion founded in 1930s Jamaica. The inscription on the building refers to Haile Selassei, the Ethiopian emperor who died in 1975 and was seen by Rastafarians as a messianic figure.

The Jewish Community Center

For decades, Jews found refuge in Cuba, and though many fled after the revolution, there are still about 400 Jewish families in Havana and 135 in the rest of the country. Dworin said that although about 90 percent of Cuban Jews marry non-Jews, there is widespread interest in Judaism, and in 2007 she helped coordinate 73 conversions and 21 Jewish weddings (most ceremonies for couples already married by the state) in one night. The youngest couple was in their twenties; the oldest, in their 80s. The beach was used as the ritual bath.

The Church of Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús

On February 5, 2009, Father José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre (center) wrote an open letter to Cuban president Raul Castro, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and asserting "in our homeland there is a constant and not justifiable violation of human rights, which is reflected in the existence of dozens of prisoners of conscience and the battered exercise of the most basic freedoms: speech, information, press and opinion, and serious restrictions on freedom of religion and politics." His years of speaking his mind openly have led to intimidation and threats both to him and his congregation.

Baptist Church in Guantanamo Province

Protestant churches are sprouting all over Latin America, and Cuba is no exception. "Home churches" are popular, and it has been estimated that there are more practicing Protestants in Cuba now than Catholics.

A Center for Santeria

Regla is considered a center for Santeria, where many religious leaders, known as babalaos and Iyas de Ocha, live. In September, the Virgin is carried through the streets in a parade.

The Cathedral of Havana

The city's most iconic church has a façade that glitters with coral – cut by the ocean by slaves. Begun in 1748 by the order of Jesuits, it was completed nearly thirty years later – too late for the Jesuits, who had by then been expelled from Spain and its colonies. During the 19th century, the Baroque convent held some of the remains of Christopher Columbus, since moved to Seville.

Santeria Altar

African religions and cultures survived slavery in Cuba in a way that was impossible in the U.S., where drumming was banned and cultural suppression was a matter of course. Cuban slaves with Yoruban traditions from West Africa adapted them to Catholicism, forming what's known as Santeria.

The Black Virgin at Regla

The black virgin at Regla is associated with Yemaya, the Santeria goddess of the sea, so she’s traditionally called on for protection by balseros, who make the treacherous journey across the Florida straits to try to migrate to the U.S.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

Baracoa, a village on the easternmost tip of the island, was said to be Columbus’s first landing point in 1492 and Cuba’s first settlement in 1511. The Cruz de La Parra, a wooden cross kept in this crumbling church, was reputed to be brought by Columbus himself, though historians now think the Spanish brought it slightly later.

Santa Teresita Computers

Though the vast majority of Cubans are denied access to the internet, some religious institutions have installed computer labs with connection-free terminals to teach their congregants basic computer skills. Santa Teresita’s is on the way, thanks in part to donations from Catholics abroad.


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