Following the 1959 revolution, Cuba was declared by new leader Fidel Castro an atheist state. Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the Caribbean nation today. Today’s visit is 14 years after the first ever papal visit to the island nation. Since Pope John Paul II declared he would open the Americas last bastion of communist rule to Catholicism, Cuba has slowly started toward some new reform.
Cuban dissidents hope the pope’s visit this week will help the Cuban government open up more to religious institutions. The pope and everyone else know that a road to freedom of religion is long. Following the revolution, the government of Cuba expelled priests and nuns. The government then took all the Churches’ property as its own. Catholics were banned from being members of the ruling party and Fidel Castro officially announced the island as an atheist state.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church can be persuasive and has pushed reform in places in the past. Cubans were able to celebrate Christmas just prior to John Paul II’s visit back in 1998. In addition, since Raul Castro has taken over as ruler, the Church has seen a more prominent role.
An opposition group to the Castro regime, Las Damas de Blanco or Ladies of White, is a group of wives or members of families of Cuban dissidents who were arrested in 2003 following Black Spring, when seventy-five dissidents were arrested by authorities in Cuba. Each Sunday the group march through Havana. However, this past weekend over 70 members were arrested, but released only hours later.