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19 Oct, 2008 20:50

Orthodoxy gets foothold in Cuba

Cuba has opened its first Orthodox church, a decade and a half after the communist island lifted a ban on religion. Hundreds of people, including the country’s leader Raul Castro turned out to watch the consecration. Russian Metropolitan Kirill blessed t

The opening is a victory for Russian Orthodoxy, which finally has a church in the Caribbean. It comes as Cuba is about to celebrate 50 years of communism.

The country eased restrictions on religion in 1992, and since then numerous Catholic cathedrals, synagogues and even a Muslim prayer room have opened.

Many Cubans see no conflict between communism and relgion.

“A communist or not, a believer or not, Fidel ordered all to come and greet the Pope in 1998, since then we started feeling comfortable when gathering for Bible readings,” a local resident said.

But for many Russian-Cubans, the sight of Raul Castro standing next to Metropolitan Kirill is almost unbelievable.

Apart from the domes and bells, the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral was built entirely by the Cuban government.
“Cuba isn't the richest state in the world, but they built this church for us and the Cubans are thankful for what Russia has done for Cuba,” Metropolitan Kirill said.

Many in Havana are citing its symbolic value, calling it a tribute to shared the history between Russia and Cuba.

“This church is part of my origin, I'm an Orthodox, like my mother, and now I have a place to talk to my God here in Havana,” another local Russian-Cuban said.

During a month-long tour, the Russian delegation will visit seven countries in Latin America, as part of efforts to promote religious and cultural ties with them. And Cuba is their top priority.

“Cuba is more stable, more developed, more tolerant, we have great ongoing relations with this country, as well as new joint projects,” the Russian Ambassador to Cuba, Mikhail Kamynin, said.