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1999 NCC News Archives

Cuban Protestant Celebration "Very Successful," Campbell Says

June 25, 1999, NEW YORK CITY – Sunday’s ecumenical Protestant celebration in Havana’s Revolution Square was "very successful and a very strong witness to their belief in Jesus Christ," commented the Rev. Dr. Joan B. Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and among speakers at the June 20 event.

Dr. Campbell, who led a 20-member NCC delegation, was cheered and applauded by Sunday’s crowd when she said it was time for the United States to end its embargo against Cuba and asked Cubans’ forgiveness for the suffering the embargo has created.

"For Christians, there are no embargos, no barriers," she told the crowd, put at 100,000 in several estimates. "We find a way to talk to each other across all the divisions our governments create for us."

Those assembled Sunday included Cuba’s President Fidel Castro along with several members of his cabinet. President Castro "sat, listened, never spoke," Dr. Campbell said. "He didn’t ask to speak and didn’t consider it proper. His respect was very apparent."

People from all over Cuba streamed into Revolution Square from all directions, carrying signs that said "Jesus Lives," "Justice, Peace and Unity" and "Let There Be Peace." The tightly choreographed, three-hour celebration included hymns, prayers, a 45-minute sermon, a dramatic interpretation of Scripture, an orchestra, ballet and special music in styles from rap to classical.

Back in the United States, Dr. Campbell commented that her message – a decades-old one from the National Council of Churches – "certainly puts us publicly asking that the embargo be ended and tying it to a moral concern by saying it in an assembly where Cuba was showing it does allow people to express their faith freely."

The June 20 celebration in Havana marked the conclusion of a month-long celebration that included dozens of national, provincial, municipal and local church activities across Cuba.

For Cuban Protestants ("evangelicals"), "it was the very first time since the Revolution that they had such a public display of their faith," Dr. Campbell said. Forty-nine denominations participated. While no Roman Catholic hierarchs spoke or made themselves known, "I have no doubt but that there were Roman Catholic faithful in the audience," she said.

According to the Cuban Council of Churches Studies Center, 300,000 Protestants and 280,000 Roman Catholics worship regularly in Cuba (1998). The Cuban Council of Churches' member churches, some of which are more than 100 years old, are deeply rooted in Cuban society. The Methodist Church in Cuba has tripled its membership in the past five years, the Presbyterian Church in Cuba is among the fastest growing Presbyterian churches in the world.

While in Havana, several members of the NCC delegation visited a tuition-free medical school that accommodates 1,700 students from across Latin America, and a hospital that specializes in problem pregnancy care and in reconstructive surgery – but has no x-ray machine.

"The evangelical churches in Cuba have, for a long time, nourished the dream of celebrating a great Evangelical event in which all Evangelical churches could come together," according to a statement from the Cuban Council of Churches. "Never before had they the conditions and the possibilities to make this dream to become true. It is, precisely, now when they feel themselves capable to undertake this adventure of faith. Not with the purpose of proselytism, but with the aim of promoting Love, Peace and Unity among the Evangelicals in Cuba and among the whole Cuban people .… (T)he events will be open to the general audience, to all persons which will be interested to listen the preaching of the Gospel, belonging or not to any religious denomination."

The (U.S.) National Council of Churches delegation was led by the Rev. Dr. Joan B. Campbell, General Secretary, and included delegates from the United Methodist Church, Church of the Brethren, African Methodist Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Progressive National Baptist Convention, and from the Christian Council of Metropolitan Atlanta. Delegates' "hometowns" include New York City; Washington, D.C.; Manchester, Ind.; Atlanta; Bethany, Okla.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Estancia, N.M.; Southfield, Mich.; Corpus Christi, Texas; Beverly, Ky.; Aloha, Ore.; Van Nuys, Calif.; Bozeman, Mt.; and Indianapolis, Ind.

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