How Fidel Castro’s Death Will Affect Cuba’s Christian Revival

Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty Images Havana residents light candles in honor of Fidel Castro.
Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty Images
Havana residents light candles in honor of Fidel Castro.
It won’t. And that’s (mostly) a good thing.

The remains of Fidel Castro are being displayed in Havana as part of Cuba’s nine days of official mourning for the deceased dictator. Many world leaders will not attend the funeral next week for the man who raised literacy rates but kept a rigid grasp on civil rights.

For Cuban Christians, his death isn’t likely to be a sea change in how the island nation’s Communist government approaches religion.

Like most Cubans, Castro himself was raised Catholic, educated by Jesuit priests as a child. He rejected his faith during the 1959 revolution, after the church rejected his movement toward atheism and socialism. Priests were killed and deported, while Christians (and other groups) were discriminated against and banned from joining the Communist Party.

But Castro—and his brother, current ruler Raúl—softened with time. Some creditthe Catholic Church and its popes with influencing Cuba’s slow turn from Marxism.

They were also good for religious holidays. Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1998; the next day, Castro reinstated Christmas. In 2012, Pope Benedict visited; soon after, the government allowed Good Friday observances.

This year, Cuba was the site of a historic step toward religious reconciliation: Pope Francis sat down with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana in the first meeting between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox heavyweights since the Christian church split into West and East in 1054.

Even though Castro’s last writings recalled the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, and God’s provision of manna, the level of his faith remains a mystery, reported Crux.

Despite the tension between church and state in Cuba, Christianity there has been undergoing an improbable and impressive revival. It sparked around the time that the Soviet Union’s collapse left Cuba scrambling to right itself. The period of crippling economic depression in the 1990s also began a time of church growth and evangelism.

The Assemblies of God has grown to more than 3,000 churches, while the Eastern Baptists have more than 1,200. Seminaries are racing to keep up with the pastor shortage.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra