Cuba’s Communist Party Forbids Holy Week Processions

Catholics in Sagua la Grande, a town in Villa Clara province carry a lifesize crucifix outside, taking advantage of the only permit they were able to get. 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 26 March 2024 Havana — Several churches will see their Holy Week celebrations scaled back because the Cuban Communist Party is not issuing permits for street processions. Sources within the Catholic Church have informed 14ymedio that celebrations in at least two parishes in Villa Clara province have been suspended, while other members of the clergy have publicly notified their communities that officials have rejected routine applications for permits.

Leaders of other Christian denominations in Matanzas, who have decided to celebrate Holy Week together, are fearful that the PCC’s Department of Religious Affairs will not allow them onto to the streets for the final stretch of activities next weekend.

“The Stations of the Cross on Good Friday (the procession in which a large crucifix is carried to several churches) from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity to the Baptist church on Medio Street in Matanzas was not authorized,” reports one of the celebrations organizers.

The PCC’s decision mean Sagua la Grande parish’s Good Friday procession will be limited

The PCC’s decision mean Sagua la Grande parish’s Good Friday procession will be limited. In a post on social media, its pastor, Wilfredo Leiter, explained they would be carrying out their lifesize crucifix outside, taking advantage of the only authorization they were able to obtain.

“This crucifix is meant to be taken out on Good Friday. And since the authorities say they will respect religious freedom on that day, we’re taking it out. If this this 300-pound Christ comes down from the altar, there’s no way he’s staying inside,” the source says.

The most notorious case, however, is once again that of Lester Zayas, the Havana priest critical of the government who, for the second year in a row, is prohibited from staging Sacred Heart parish’s Good Friday procession in Havana’s Vedado district. “Yesterday I was informed through the relevant channels that the procession would not be approved,” the Dominican priest said on Facebook.

In a break with an eleven-year tradition, the PCC denied the parish’s application despite its having been submitted on time, an action that Zayas says will have consequences for his community. He notes that, last year, officials claimed they did not have enough personel to provide adequate security for the celebration. “On that occasion, the denial had to do with me personally. It seems my sermons made some people uncomfortable or nervous,” he says.

On that occasion, the denial had to do with me personally. It seems my sermons made some people uncomfortable or nervous

“Never, in all my years as a priest, have I ever made use of the public space for anything other than processions, to exhort nothing other than piety. I am very aware of the public space and am a diehard defender of the secular state. I know how to distinguish between the public space, which requires one type of behavior, and the religious space, which requires another,” he said. He noted, however, that the procession would take place inside the church.

Another voice critical of the government is that of a Catholic priest, Kenny Delgado, who recalled in his Monday sermon at Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus Church in Havana’s Arroyo Naranjo district the words of Cuban priests to the police following the 11 July 2021 (11J) protests: “Do not raise your hand against your brother.”

Drawing a parallel between Cuban security agents and the Roman legions in the Passion of Christ narrative, Delgado alluded to those who attack the people with “a pipe, a chain, a knife.” In response, the parishioners chanted 11J’s message of non-violence.

On Monday, a Catholic priest told 14ymedio that no processions would be taking place in the Bayamo-Manzanillo diocese. “The government does not want people out in the street because it’s afraid of demonstrations. That means we have to forget about doing something we have done year after year. There were processions last year and they all took place with the peace of God,” he said.

“We’re very disgusted by this decision. Faith has nothing to do with politics and they shouldn’t be mixed”

“We’re very disgusted by this decision. Faith has nothing to do with politics and they shouldn’t be mixed,” he added, visibly aggravated. This opinion is shared by a vendor who typically can be found at the corner where the Manzanillo church is located and who has nothing good to say about the measure.

Word of the cancellation came to light after a source alerted the Catholic news website Aciprensa. The article extensively quotes Osvaldo Gallardo, a writer and religious activist who currently resides in Miami but who lived for more than forty years on the Island, working on culture and communication projects for the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops. “[The regime] is very afraid of public gatherings right now,” he said.

Gallardo recalled a case from September 10, 1961 when a young man named Arnaldo Socorro was fatally injured in front of Our Lady of Charity Church after coming to the defense of a banned procession and for shouting “Long live Christ the King.”

Meanwhile, the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio García Ibáñez, who is known for making statements critical of the Cuban government, which have caused him some problems with the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops, made a plea during a prayer last Sunday to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre on behalf of the people. “Electricity and food?… “Is that unattainable? Is that asking too much? No. Our people are also asking for freedom,” said the prelate.


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