When Pope Francis visited Cuba in September 2015, many thought the milestone event could signal a breakthrough in the campaign to promote religious freedom in the Caribbean island nation.
But now the memory of that papal visit seems to have been forgotten as Cuba's communist regime has launched a renewed crackdown on the Christian faith with reports of churches destroyed, pastors imprisoned, religious leaders' personal property seized and Christians violently stopped from worshipping.
In its latest report, the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says the Cuban regime has launched a major crackdown against churches and has seized and demolished at least 1,400 church buildings. The regime is justifying its action by claiming that the churches are unregistered, and therefore, illegal.
The report cites more than 1,000 cases of religious freedom violations, including the "destruction of church property, arbitrary detention and other forms of harassment, in particular seizure of religious leaders' personal belongings."
More than 1,000 churches were officially confiscated between January and July of this year, with 100 of those churches threatened with demolition, according to CBN News.
The vehemence of the latest crackdown is such that Christians are often "violently dragged away by security agents as they leave their homes or upon arriving at church services," the CSW report states.
CSW has so far documented at least nine incidents this year where pastors were harassed and detained as state workers demolished their churches.
In one of the most serious cases, Rev. Marion Felix Lleonart Barroso was arrested on March 20, just hours before U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Cuba on an official visit.
"CSW is alarmed by the escalation of freedom of religion or belief violations throughout Cuba, but humbled by the courage and perseverance of the many religious communities who continue to peacefully resist government pressure," CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in statement.
Thomas urges the United States and other Western countries to pressure Cuba to stop violating human rights.
CSW is also urging Christians around the world to pray for the protection of pastors in Cuba, especially those who are languishing in Cuban prisons.