The history of religion in Cuba can be said to be “hiding in plain sight.” While between 40 and 60% of the population is Catholic, other denominations exist, including Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Quakers. However, according to the US State Department 80% of the population consult with practitioners of syncretic religions such as Santeria.
Santeria is an example of a religion hiding in plain sight. It is the Yoruba religion of the African slaves combined with Catholicism and Native aboriginal elements. The mask of Catholicism is no longer a separate part of the religion and is now an integral part of their ritual and belief system. This helped to keep alive the native African and aboriginal religions by hiding them in plain sight. By pairing the gods of the Yoruba religion with saints of Catholicism, slaves kept alive their gods despite the imposition of another religion – Christianity.
A few weeks before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, a 66-foot-tall, 320-ton statute of Jesus Christ was erected overlooking Havana. It still remains there to this day, hiding in plain sight. While Jesus looks over Havana, locals can see Him from many viewpoints in the city. It was recently restored and blessed by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the head of the Catholic Church on the island.
In 1992 discrimination based on religious beliefs was banned; this took Cuba from an atheist society to a secular one. After decades of not being fêted, Christmas and Easter are now celebrated in this island country. Evangelistic Christianity seems to remain very tempered in this nation still wrestling with its revolutionary past and present.
In recent years the government has allowed for the building of large worship and training centers under the auspices of the Methodist church in Cuba. The further easing of restrictions may allow for more opportunities for proselytization in the future. For now, the Church is a partner in social programs like hurricane relief and education, helping to draw in more and more members by not only caring for the soul but the body as well. Here, no longer do Christians have to hide; they can just be seen in plain sight.
Frank Fernandez (left) and Jorge Luiz Espinosa mix concrete for a sidewalk at Camp Canaan, a Methodist retreat center near Santa Clara, Cuba. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS
If you would like to visit Cuba and its churches, take Educational Opportunities cruises to the island nation with their partner Celestyal Crystal Cruises.