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Church’s Impact on Latin Affairs Helps Its Position in Cuba

Times Staff Writer

Fidel Castro’s new policy of tolerance toward the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba is an outgrowth of Havana’s heightened interest in the affairs of its neighbors in Latin America, where the church has figured prominently in the displacement of military regimes, in the view of a Cuban churchman visiting Washington.

Msgr. Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, secretary to the Cuban Conference of Bishops, told a group of Cuban scholars here last week he believes that a renewal of relations with other Latin American states “compels the Cuban government to improve its image regarding church-state relations within Cuba.”

Further, Cespedes said, a “healthy realism” may have motivated a new attitude on the part of the Communist leadership. Having created a Marxist-Leninist base in Cuban society, he said, Cuba’s leaders may have concluded that it is probably better to tolerate the modest rebirth of religious practice that has occurred in the last five years than to combat it.

While far from overwhelming, religious growth in Cuba is reflected in a rise in the number of baptisms, religious funerals and even church marriages, Cespedes said. But he conceded that Catholics are only a remnant of their pre-revolutionary strength. “Committed” church members, he said, now number only about 100,000--just 1% of the 10 million population. He said about twice that number are “occasional participants.”

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From the Catholic church’s lowest point, which the cleric put at 1979, a slight upward movement has taken place.


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