Monday, May 13, 2013

The Strength of Faith

Thomas Pankau

Reporting from Havana

The morning after we arrived in Havana, I walked down to the hotel lobby, eager to begin the daily schedule of events in the city. I was intrigued at the prospect of reading the Cuban government's official news, so picked up the Granma, the state-controlled newspaper, at the front desk one particular article caught my eye. It was all about the religious freedoms Cuba offers and it discussed the wonderful religious life Cubans enjoy today--no discrimination, lots of diversity, etc. Now I was really interested--was this just propaganda, or was there some truth to the Cuban government's claims of being a land of religious tolerance? Knowing that implementation of communist policy commonly included state-sponsored atheism as a main tenet, I began to wonder if this was one of the many liberalizations that was occurring in the last decade.

However, the prominence of religion was not something that was only found in the newspapers. Our excursion to Old Havana a few days later was divided into various squares with different historical backgrounds--some dealing with the markets, some dealing with religion. Walking around, I was struck by just how prominent the religious imagery still was in Cuba. There were a number of old churches and large statues of religious figures which seemed to indicate that Cuba's religiosity was a respected part of its past, in spite of the country's three decades as an officially atheist state. My own previous travels to Central America had taught me that Latin America is religiously dominated by Catholicism, but I was still surprised at the extent to which that is still true in a nation that was once so adamantly communist. Not only is Catholicism still dominant in Cuba today, but religious diversity is celebrated with synagogues and Afro-religious
practices having their own places in modern Cuban life. It seems that Granma wasn't lying--in fact, the Cuban government's support of religious freedoms would have been the opposite stance taken throughout the Cold War. I asked our tour guide about any conflicts between the state and religion that existed in the past, to which he replied that there were many at first. His face indicated that he was trying to find the right phrase in English to explain the situation today, and at last he eventually said, "Time heals all wounds."

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