Rendering of the new Church of the Assumption

Rendering of the new Church of the Assumption

When Fidel Castro took over the island nation of Cuba, it officially become a nation of atheists. However, the Catholic community in Cuba continued to worship – privately, where necessary – and attempted to maintain existing churches. Castro’s regime would not allow the building of any new churches.

Now, there are plans to build a new church for the first time in fifty wars in Santiago, a city that suffered great damage from Hurricane Sandy two years ago. Santiago is home to one of Cuba’s great Catholic shrines, Our Lady of El Cobre, but the church there (riddled with termites and long-neglected) was destroyed in the hurricane.

There remains great poverty among many residents in the area, many of whom suffered great damage to their own homes from the hurricane. However, they want a church.

Back in the city, a smooth concrete floor and the outline of the altar are all that remains of the 93-year-old church of San Pedrito.

Across the road, an elderly parishioner has stored the few items salvaged from the wreck – a couple of candlesticks, a wooden lectern and two chipped figurines from the nativity scene.

“The rest were carried off by thieves,” Marta Perez explains, shaking her head.

She says the congregation still gathers in the street outside for mass whenever a peripatetic priest can visit.

“We really need our church back,” Ms Perez insists.

The project is largely being funded by a Catholic church in Tampa, Fla., home to many Cuban exiles or the descendants of exiles. Despite the fact that this project will take about $250,000 to complete, in an area where getting materials and working with bureaucracy can be difficult, the archbishop of Santiago is hopeful:

The Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio Garcia Ibanez, told the BBC: ‘I think it’s not only about improving attitudes to the Catholic Church, but to Churches in general. I think there’s a better understanding of religious affairs, so we hope it won’t only be this church that we build. We hope there’ll be more.’

While the majority of Cubans say they have been baptized, only a small portion practice their faith, partly due to the suppression of religion by the Communist regime, though many have maintained their faith in private. The building of this new church is a sign that religious liberty may be gaining a foothold once again in this heavily Catholic nation.

Read “Cuban Catholics hope to build first new church since 1959 revolution” at BBC News.

Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War

Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War

The term "Manifest Destiny" has traditionally been linked to U.S. westward expansion in the nineteenth century, the desire to spread republican government, and racialist theories like Anglo-Saxonism. Yet few people realize the degree to which Manifest Destiny and American republicanism relied on a deeply anti-Catholic civil-religious discourse. John C. Pinheiro traces the rise to prominence of this discourse, beginning in the 1820s and culminating in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.Pinheiro begins with social reformer and Protestant evangelist Lyman Beecher, who was largely responsible for synthesizing seemingly unrelated strands of religious, patriotic, expansionist, and political sentiment into one universally understood argument about the future of the United States. When the overwhelmingly Protestant United States went to war with Catholic Mexico, this "Beecherite Synthesis" provided Americans with the most important means of defining their own identity, understanding Mexicans, and interpreting the larger meaning of the war. Anti-Catholic rhetoric constituted an integral piece of nearly every major argument for or against the war and was so universally accepted that recruiters, politicians, diplomats, journalists, soldiers, evangelical activists, abolitionists, and pacifists used it. It was also, Pinheiro shows, the primary tool used by American soldiers to interpret Mexico's culture. All this activity in turn reshaped the anti-Catholic movement. Preachers could now use caricatures of Mexicans to illustrate Roman Catholic depravity and nativists could point to Mexico as a warning about what America would be like if dominated by Catholics.Missionaries of Republicanism provides a critical new perspective on Manifest Destiny, American republicanism, anti-Catholicism, and Mexican-American relations in the nineteenth century.