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Background Information on Cuba’s Protestant Churches
Compiled by the (U.S.) National Council of Churches

Overview: A Growing Church 

The growth and strength of the Protestant churches in Cuba today is a story ripe for the telling!  Protestants now constitute more than 50 percent of the Christian worshipping community.  According to the Cuban Council of Churches Studies Center, 300,000 Protestants worship regularly in Cuba, and 280,000 Roman Catholics. 

Faith has boomed in Cuba during the last few years.  In May 1998, a (U.S.) National Council of Churches (NCC) delegation worshiped in three congregations – Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian – all reporting phenomenal growth.   For example, Pastor Raul Suarez at the Ebenezer Baptist Church told delegation members that he had 20 persons in worship in 1990, now he has 300, and there are more than 20 trained facilitators of groups that meet regularly in each others’ homes for Bible study and prayer. Sunday mornings, Bible study groups for all ages - including for persons preparing for baptism - occupy virtually every corner of the church, classrooms, courtyard and offices.   

The churches’ service to the community also is growing rapidly. For example, there now are denominational and ecumenical programs of care for the lonely elderly, for construction of housing for the community at large whatever their religion, and so forth.   

National Protestant Celebration: May-June 1999 

On June 20, 1999, a month-long celebration of faith by Cuba’s Protestants – including dozens of national, provincial, municipal and local church activities across Cuba -- concluded with an outdoor event in Havana’s Revolution Square.  Organized by the Cuban Council of Churches, all of Cuba’s 50 Protestant denominations participated. 

"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 crowd was put at 100,000 by several estimates.  The many guests from abroad included 20 from the NCC.  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.  Forty-nine denominations participated.  Those assembled included Cuba’s President Fidel Castro along with several members of his cabinet.    

Commented the Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce, Cuban Council of Churches President, during a visit to the NCC’s New York headquarters in April 2000, “For the first time in more than 40 years, Protestants had worship in public – and on TV.  It was a great opportunity for evangelization.” 

Moreover, the celebration brought big Pentecostal churches that aren’t Cuban Council of Churches members into a working relationship with the Council.  “When we talk about the mission of the church,” Dr. Arce said, “we have to take into account that the Pentecostals are a big element.  We have to find a balance to take into account the historical churches.  Now we have more possibilities to work together.” 

Impact of Pope John Paul II’s Visit: January 1998 

The NCC delegation that visited Cuba in May 1998 heard from their Protestant colleagues how the Pope’s visit has benefited all Christians.  Religious language has found greatly expanded space in the public discourse.  The delegation expressed its great  appreciation for the Pope’s ecumenical spirit, the fact that he met with 30 Protestant church leaders while he was in Cuba, and his welcome of all Christians to his public events. 

In January 2000, Protestants and Roman Catholics joined to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, at services in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal cathedrals.  Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega participated in both.  “Protestant and Catholic churches in Cuba have had an ‘off and on’ relationship,” Dr. Arce commented, who met with Cardinal Ortega in July to explore Cuban Council of Churches-Roman Catholic dialogue.  “I think we can deepen relations with the Catholic Church.”

The NCC and Cuba