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05/30/2024 Cuba (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) led planning for the Violations Track at the 2024 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C. One of the five track sessions, spearheaded by the International Republican Institute and other sponsors, was, “Concerning Trends in Latin America.” The session featured several key panelists including Alberto Reyes Pías, a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Camagüey, Cuba. He has been an outspoken critic of his government’s crackdown on religious freedom. Below are his panel remarks that give insight into Christian persecution in Cuba.

In Cuba, one of the most subtle mechanisms of evil is what we call ‘normalization’ which is nothing more than evil becoming a habitual part of our life. We not only take its presence for granted, but also focus our energies not on eliminating it and freeing ourselves from it, but on figuring out how to continue walking, despite it hindering our steps, tying our hands, and oppressing our throat.

In appearance, religious freedom is respected in Cuba. In general, churches are open, worship is allowed, catechesis exists, young people gather, one can openly talk about God, possess a Bible, and wear religious symbols. Yet, in Cuba, there is a thirst for God. Pastoral agents focus on serving those seeking an experience with God that touches their lives, even at the cost of accepting as ‘normal’ what is not.

The truth is that there is a universe of realities that repress the full enjoyment of religious freedom in Cuba. Many of us have had no choice other than to accept it as ‘normal.’

However, it is not normal, despite attempts to make it so, to have an Office of Religious Affairs led by the Communist Party, overseeing, and attempting to control every single movement of the Church. It is not normal for this office to pressure Cuban bishops to restrain the social actions or political actions of priests and committed laity.

It is not normal to depend on permits for any public expression of faith.

It is not normal to lack access to media communications and for the Church to be prohibited from having its own. It is not normal for different denominations to be denied access to the national education and health systems and be unable to have their own schools and healthcare facilities.

It is not normal for the Church to be harassed for defending the innocence of political prisoners and for assisting their families. It is not normal for priests, nuns, and laity who, moved by their faith, speak up for the people who face harassment and defamation.

Fighting directly and openly to solve these issues would only lead to our destruction or discouragement. This is a luxury we cannot afford.

Therefore, with the spirit of survivors, we seek every opening that allows the light of faith to pass through. We systematically ignore threats and attacks from the Office of Religious Affairs and other state actors. We insist repeatedly on the permits needed to rebuild our church buildings and permits to express our faith publicly. We buy houses and register them under [the names of] trusted individuals to turn them into churches for the people. We distribute evangelistic materials by hand and use our personal social media networks. We find our own ways to obtain and distribute medicine, food, clothing — anything that can alleviate the precarious situation of the people.

However, we cannot deny that this life of struggle and survival drains us. Humans can face any war, but they are not made to live perpetually in [a state of] war, and our war has lasted for 65 years — 65 long years where we have had to start over and over again, dealing with a system allergic to the central values of the Christian faith. A system that is on high alert whenever it hears about truth, justice, freedom, and goodness in which they are not the protagonists and administrators.

We will continue to fight, despite the high price, but we need to know that we are not alone, that there are others who will speak up when we are silenced, who will defend the truth when others lie about a Cuban paradise that does not exist.

We need to know that there are others who will not play along with official propaganda, who will denounce anything that binds our spirit and suppresses our actions.

We need to know that there are others who, day by day, pray for us to the God who unites us, asking for the desired freedom, the conversion of our people, and forgiveness for those who oppress us and need to open their souls to a God who is also their Father.

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