Cuban Pastors Cautious About Renewed US Ties

Some Cuban pastors aren't optimistic about working with American churches -- not because they doubt the sincerity of their American counterparts, but because their own government is looking over their shoulders, according to an American missionary.

While President Barack Obama became the first U.S. leader to walk on Cuban soil in 88 years on March 20, and the future could be bright for the island nation, Action Cuba founder Brian Stewart told Christian Today that the Cuban government still enforces strict rules for American visitors, including missionaries.

American visitors are still required to get visas, and they're restricted to working with only one Cuban denomination per visit to the country, the report said. While American churches can be generous, there's also doubt that aid would make it to the churches and communities it's intended for.

Because of Cuba's centralized, communist government, Stewart told Christian Today, overseas donations must go through the Partido Comunista de Cuba, the only legal political party in the country. Despite the talk of reconciliation, the handshakes between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, and the promises of cooperation, Cuban religious leaders are skeptical their congregations will see any of the donated money.

Churches in Cuba have also been at the receiving end of the government's alleged human rights violations. While Pope Francis had a quiet -- but significant -- role in brokering the new friendship between the U.S. and Cuba, the church can and should put more pressure on Castro, said Andy Gomez, a retired professor and senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies

“It is time for some of our leadership in the Catholic Church to take a stronger stand with the Cuban government and demand more," Gomez told Catholic News Service. "It is time to stop dancing around them."

And there's another factor dampening enthusiasm on the part of Cuban clergy, Stewart told Christian Today. With the U.S. presidential election underway, and some Republicans questioning Obama's efforts to reconcile with the communist country, Cubans worry the reconciliation will be short-lived and end with a new administration.

Those pastors, Stewart said, are "not very optimistic."

Sources: Christian Today, Catholic News Service via CatholicPhilly.com / Photo credit: The White House

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