Cuba to get its first Catholic church since Castro

REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

A remote town in western Cuba is set to be the first parish in the country to build a new church, as official government policy in the Communist nation towards religion makes a major shift.

According to CNN, a new Catholic church is set to be built in the remote town of Sandino. The new church will take two years to build and will have a capacity to accommodate 200 churchgoers.

Rev Fr Cirilo Castro told CNN that Sandino's Catholics have celebrated Mass once a week in a converted garage for many years now. The priest drives to the town every week to officiate as part of his ministerial duties to the province under whose jurisdiction the town falls. However, when the new church is completed, Fr Castro said that he will minister full-time in the town.

The diocese assured Sandino's residents that "everything is ready" for the construction of the new church.

"There is money to start, there is the construction material to start, there are the permissions to start," Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa PĂ©rez said.

CNN reported that most of the money that was donated for the church's construction came from the St Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida.

"Much of Tampa's history and culture comes from Cuba," Rev Tom Morgan, St Lawrence's vicar, told CNN. "It's absolutely fantastic they are building a new church, and I hope to be able to visit one day."

Fr Morgan also hopes that the changes in the US Treasury's policies could make it possible for St Lawrence to contribute materials for the church's construction.

Religious freedom was suppressed after the 1959 revolution that brought the late Fidel Castro to power. However, since 1998, the Cuban government began easing up on its restrictions on the Catholic Church. This year, the government began approving requests for the construction of churches in the country, with the project in Sandino being the first to receive a green light.