Christian charity appeals for funds to fight Cuba church demolitions

Bishops before a mass at Havana Cathedral in Cuba.Reuters

A leading Christian charity is appealing for funds to help stop the demolition of churches in Cuba.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has published moving testimony of what it was like for the pastor and his family when government officials demolished Emanuel Church in eastern Cuba.

"Marilin is dragged from her bed by the police, handcuffed, and led away while her daughters, aged 11 and 12, watch helplessly. Her husband, Alain, is at a conference in Miami. He will not know what's happened to his wife until the next day.

"Just a few hours later, government officials proceeded to demolish the Emanuel Church building in Eastern Cuba – the church Marilin and her husband Alain lead – which is also their home. Two hundred church members were arrested to stop them protesting the demolition."

It was not an isolated incident. Last year, more than 100 churches in Cuba were designated for demolition, and 2,000 Assemblies of God churches were declared illegal. Since the start of this year four major churches have been demolished, with many more at risk. 

"The Cuban government wants to keep this a secret – but we won't stop shining a light on what's happening," said the charity. 

Emanuel Church, a large church in eastern Cuba affiliated to the Apostolic MovementCSW

A group of around 40 were held in a local school while others were taken to police stations across the region to stop them from protesting against the demolition.

According to Church leaders, many were beaten while they were being detained. The government has repeatedly refused to register the Apostolic Movement denomination, said the charity.

Rev  Alain Toledano said his daughters were screaming as they witnessed their mother being detained, adding that this is the second time they have experienced the destruction of their home and church. The last occasion was 2007.

In addition to the latest demolition, in February this year, the government confiscated goods belonging to the church including pews, chairs, audio equipment a piano and other musical instruments. More than 1,000 blocks of cement were also confiscated, despite the fact that the Toledano family has documents showing that they were legally purchased.

The government had approved the construction of and renovation work on the buildings. 

Mervyn Thomas of CSW said: "We are extremely disturbed to learn of this latest church demolition by the Cuban authorities, in a similar manner to the destruction of the two Apostolic Movement churches on 8 January. We are also extremely concerned for the family of Reverend Toledano and his wife Marilín, who saw their home razed as part of this destruction.

"This series of demolitions since the New Year indicates a worrying escalation in terms of violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba. Again, we urge the international community to raise the demolition of these three churches, the mass detentions of pastors and church members, as well as the threats against others with the Cuban government as a matter of urgency. We continue to call on the EU and the US to make freedom of religion or belief a central component of its dialogues with Cuba and to insist on improvement in this area."