Twenty years ago, Pope John Paul II visited Cuba. He was the very first pontiff to do so in the island’s history and his visit marked a thaw in the Communist regime’s relations with the Vatican. In the optimism those days ushered in, the small Catholic parish in Guiteras, a suburb of Havana, planned to build a church. But it never got off the drawing board.
Not until Pope Francis re-ignited the community’s hopes and aspirations when he visited in 2015. For centuries, the Catholic Church had played a crucial role in Cuba’s history. That changed dramatically when a popular uprising swept Fidel Castro into power in 1959. Many priests fled the country, and the Church’s influence shrank. However, in recent years Catholicism has made a comeback. Some 2,000 "house churches" or "houses of prayer" have sprung up, offering Catholics a place of worship in private homes. Now, many of them want church buildings, including the community in Guiteras. It has been growing steadily since Pope John Paul II visited the island in 1998. This report documents the difficulties the Guiteras parish has encountered in building a church. But it also bears testimony the community’s spiritual resilience and vitality. The Christians of Guiteras have never given up hope. At least, their church building now has a bell. And everyone is optimistic that next year, when the Cuban revolution celebrates its sixtieth anniversary, their new church will be ready.