History of the Catholic Church in Cuba
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Christopher Columbus, on his first Spanish-sponsored voyage to the Americas in 1492, sailed south from what is now the Bahamas to explore the northeast coast of Cuba and the northern coast of Hispaniola. Columbus, who was searching for a route to India, believed the island to be a peninsula of the Asian mainland. The first sighting of a Spanish ship approaching the island was on 28 October 1492, probably at Bariay, Holguín Province, on the eastern point of the island.
During a second voyage in 1494, Columbus passed along the south coast of the island, landing at various inlets including what was to become Guantánamo Bay. With the Papal Bull of 1493, Pope Alexander VI commanded Spain to conquer, colonize and convert the pagans of the New World to Catholicism.
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At the end of the 19th century, many Cubans viewed the Catholic Church as one of the primary enemies of the fledgling nation. There were two main reasons for this. The first had to do with the bond between church and crown. In exchange for the services that it provided the monarchy, the colonial church received numerous privileges and exceptions. Priests were immune from prosecution in civil court, church buildings were erected and clergy members were paid partly out of state coffers. The church's authority was backed by the might of the state and the force of law, and the profession of other religions in the colonies was illegal. Furthermore, until the 1880s, there was no marriage other than the canonical.
Many Cuban separatists believed the dominant position of the Church in the colonial era to be evidence of the backwardness of the Spanish monarchy. Similarly, others viewed any lingering privileges that might be accorded the Church after independence as a vestige of the injustices of the colonial period.
A more immediate reason for anti-clericalism being a component of Cuban nationalism was that the Catholic hierarchy had actively sided with the Spanish monarchy against the Cuban revolutionaries during the armed conflict of 1868–1898.
Another major issue of contention was that the Catholic Church of Cuba had failed to develop and sustain a significant native-born clergy. Many of the lower-ranking priests and all of the Catholic prelates were born in Spain. This led many Cubans to conclude that the primary allegiance of these men was to Spain, even before Rome.
The conflicts between church and state during the first decades of the republic—e.g. over marriage, divorce, baptism, burial, education and the citizenship of priests—were, in large part, direct attempts by Cuban nationalists to strike a blow against the Church, and to divest it of power and influence that they believed it held illegitimately.
After the 1959 revolution, Cuba officially embraced atheism. Practicing Catholics and other believers were viewed with suspicion and discriminated. Fidel Castro succeeded in reducing the Church's ability to work by deporting the archbishop and 150 Spanish priests, discriminating against Catholics in public life and education and refusing to accept them as members of the Communist Party. The subsequent flight of 300,000 people from the island also helped to diminish the Church there.
In 1992, Cuba declared itself a secular state and permitted Catholics and others to join the Communist Party. However, religious schools have remained closed since the early 1960s.
- Carla Rahn Phillips (1993). The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (reprint, illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-521-44652-5.
- Thomas Suarez (1999). Early Mapping of Southeast Asia. Tuttle Publishing. p. 109. ISBN 978-962-593-470-9.
- Gott, Richard (2004). Cuba: A new history. Yale University Press. Chapter 5.
- Bakewell, Peter. A History of Latin America. Blackwell Publishers. pp. 129–130.
- Chadwick, A History of Christianity (1995), p. 266