FaithWorld

Cuba’s Catholic Church to open first new seminary in decades

havana cathedral (Photo: Havana’s Catholic cathedral, June 14, 2010/Desmond Boylan)

The Roman Catholic Church will open on Wednesday its first new seminary in Cuba in more than half a century in a further sign of its improving relations with the island’s communist-led government.

The seminary replaces a similar school for future priests that was  expropriated by Cuba’s communist authorities in 1966 and transformed first into a military barracks, then a police academy.

Catholic officials said Cuban President Raul Castro was expected to attend the inauguration — reflecting the more cordial relations between the Church and the government. Castro turned to the Church this year to serve as an internal interlocutor as he faced growing international pressure over political prisoners and human rights.

Cuban Church leader Cardinal Jaime Ortega negotiated with him the ongoing release of more than 50 political prisoners and, according to Western diplomats, opened an unofficial line of communication between Cuba and the United States, which do not have full formal diplomatic relations.

Read the full story by Esteban Israel here.

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Analysis: Catholic Church raises hopes of role in Cuban change

cuba 1The Roman Catholic Church has won praise for securing the release of political prisoners in Cuba, raising hopes it can do more to broker reforms on the communist-ruled island and perhaps even help improve U.S.-Cuba ties.

Sidelined for decades by the communist authorities until Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998, the Church has now carved out a visible role as an interlocutor with the government, and as a possible catalyst of change. (Photo: Released prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya in a wheelchair at Santa Rita Church as he joins the weekly protest of the Ladies in White, a group made up of imprisoned family members, in Havana June 20, 2010./Desmond Boylan)

Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega raised his voice earlier this year, asking President Raul Castro to accelerate economic reforms and end government harassment of the dissident group Ladies in White during their peaceful street protests.

Vatican official’s Cuba visit spurs new hopes for political prisoners

mambertiA five-day visit to Cuba by Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominque Mamberti, which ended on Sunday, has raised hopes that more political prisoners will be released and the Catholic Church’s recent prominence will continue, dissident and church leaders say.

“Really, we are very optimistic about the visit because there could be more releases of our family members.  This visit has been very positive,” said Berta Soler, a leader in the dissident group “Ladies in White,” whose husbands and sons are political prisoners. (Photo: Archbishop Mamberti visits a Havana school with a portrait of late rebel leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara on the wall, June 18, 2010/Enrique De La Os)

In joint appearances, Cuban officials and Mamberti repeatedly used words like “cordial,” “respectful” and “on the rise” to describe Cuban-Vatican relations, which have improved in the past decade after years of discord following Cuba’s 1959 revolution (here in English and in Spanish).