"Mariela Castro Is Our Friend But That Does Not Make Our Church Communist"

Mariela Castro (left) and her husband, Italian Paolo Titolo (right), at a ceremony of the Metropolitan Christian Church in Cuba. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 17 May 2018 — The presence of Mariela Castro blessing LGBT couples on Saturday draped in a Christian stole, on the day against homophobia and transphobia in Cuba, has generated scorn among some Cuban believers. In recent days the press has focused on a new church established on the island with an inclusive agenda and the help of the National Center of Sex Education (Cenesex), led by the daughter of former president Raul Castro.

“Seeing the image of Fidel Castro presiding over a celebration of the rights of the LGBTI community and the believers of a Christian Church supporting him is a bit strong,” says the missionary pastor of the Lutheran Church, Ignacio Estrada, from Miami.

“Is it a mockery or a usurpation? The stole is a symbol of Christ’s authority, Mariela Castro should not wear it,” he says. The church the sexologist is pledged to is the Metropolitan Community Church  (MCC). For Estrada it is a mistake to mix politics with religion.

The MCC defines itself as a Church with a positive and inclusive message towards the LGBTI community. It also favors ecumenism (the unity of Christians) and is liberal in nature.

Since it was established on the Island in 2016, the MCC has been linked to Cenesex and it is common to see Mariela Castro participate in its ceremonies, impart blessings and encourage LGBTI couples.

A representative of the MCC board of directors in Cuba, who agreed to speak with this newspaper on condition of anonymity, denied that his congregation is trying to mix politics and religion.

“We understand our mission in Cuba and for Cuba, we work alongside those institutions that share our same vision, Cenesex is one of them, and is the one that has most supported us in our work, especially in the person of Mariela Castro, who is a faithful sympathizer of our church,” he said.

The pastor recognizes that they are sending a political message when they participate in governmental activities, but emphasizes that his main intention is to signal that a church “whose voice is dissident to the rest of the churches” is present in the country.

“There is a church in Cuba where the LGBTI community is accepted completely without limitations or conditions, because God loves us radically. Mariela is a deputy [in parliament], Raul’s daughter, our friend and obviously revolutionary but that does not make our church communist,” he added.

The pastor justified Castro’s use of liturgical ornament: “Many see her as a pastor for the LGBTI community, she uses that symbol not from a religious point of view, but as a symbol of a pastor, a companion, a protector,” he said.

The MCC, founded in 1968 in the United States, has more than 400 communities around the world. In Cuba it has around 100 faithful, but in just two years it already has three communities, in Matanzas, Santa Clara and Havana.

In 2016, the Institute of Global Justice of the Metropolitan Community Church awarded Mariela Castro the Be Justice award and the following year Castro responded by giving MCC founder Troy Perry the highest award granted by Cenesex.

Both Perry and the Rev. Héctor Gutiérrez, a Mexican bishop responsible for MCC in Cuba, have been in Havana. Mariela Castro and her husband, the Italian Paolo Titolo, witnessed the renewal of Gutiérrez’s marriage vows.

For Yadiel Hernández, a member of the First Baptist Church of Matanzas, relations between the Cenesex and the Metropolitan Community Church are “a business.”

“The MCC needs Cenesex and Mariela Castro because under the auspices of that institution they have grown in the country and at the same time Mariela Castro and Cenesex use the Church to promote their agenda,” he says and believes that if the MCC were to criticize the Government it would lose “its official favor.”

The MCC is not recognized by the Council of Churches of Cuba or by the office of the Communist Party charged with regulating the presence of religious organizations on the island. However, unlike other religious organizations born in recent years, it has not been persecuted, something that Hernandez attributes to its relationship with the daughter of the former president.

According to the World Christian Solidarity organization, the violations of religious and worship rights in Cuba increased in 2017 and there are churches that have been asking for official recognition for more than two decades, which forces them to meet clandestinely and be subject to searches by the authorities.

“The Church [i.e. the Christian churches] in Cuba is in a moment of expansion, many congregations from different parts of the world are arriving and some of them have a lot of money and seek support from institutions in the country,” says Hernandez.

Victor M. Dueñas, one of the activists who launched the We Also Love campaign in 2015 in favor of gay marriage in Cuba, does not believe in Mariela Castro’s “good intentions” in support of the LGBTI community nor in her adherence to the MCC.

“It is a betrayal of the Christian communities,” says the Presbyterian, who supports “an inclusive Church” but is outraged to see “the political agendas that can eclipse the Christian message.”

Dueñas, who along with a hundred Cubans asked for asylum at a Dutch airport last January, says Mariela Castro could do much more for the LGBTI community.

“We have been waiting ten years for the constitutional reform in which Mariela Castro has promised to try to include homosexual marriage, and in 2015, when other activists launched a campaign to promote it, she refused to support us,” he says.

The former president’s daughter has rejected that the objective of the Cuban Government should be the enactment of equal marriage and has indicated that socialism can not seek the “the simplest solution that appears nor repeat what others do.”

“In Cuba, laws are needed to protect LGBTI people so that they are not discriminated against, it is necessary to recognize police violence and take measures to prevent it, and projects that are independent of the State that defend LGBT rights, that they don’t hijack their discourse.”


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