This is the second post in a week long series on Religion in Cuba Today. Our next post in this series will provide historical background to help us understand Cuba’s religious life. You won’t want to miss it. Sign up for our e-mail list to have it delivered to your mailbox automatically.
The relationship between church and state began to improve dramatically in Cuba in the early 1990s. Currently, as most of you know, Cuba is in the midst of a process of significant transformation that offers greater opportunity for Cuban civil society, including religious groups.
Here’s a snapshot of religious life in Cuba today.
There’s no independent authoritative source on the size or composition of religious institutions and their membership. Our information is drawn from the United States Department of State, 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom – Cuba, 17 November 2010.
The Roman Catholic Church estimates that 60 percent of Cuba’s population is Catholic, and they further estimate that 10 percent of baptized Catholics regularly attend Mass.
Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 550,000 persons, about 5% of the Cuban population.
The Baptists, represented in four different conventions, are possibly the largest Protestant denomination, followed closely by the Pentecostal churches, particularly the Assemblies of God.
The number of Pentecostals is believed to be rising sharply.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses report more than 90,000 members
- Seventh-day Adventists 30,000
- Anglicans 22,000
- Methodists 21,000
- Presbyterians 15,000
- Quakers 300
- Mormons 50
The Mormons meet in Havana in space rented from another church.
Other religious groups in Cuba include Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Baha’is.
The Jewish community has 1,500 members, 1,200 of whom reside in Havana.
The Muslim population consists of 6,000 temporary residents, mainly businessmen, students, and diplomats, and 300 native-born Sunni Muslims. There are approximately 50 Shi’a Muslims.
The Shi’a community directs the Al-Ma’sumin Islamic Center. In the fall of 2008 a hurricane extensively damaged their building, and the Center now operates out of an apartment.
Several embassies, led by the Iranian and Saudi Arabian missions, offered to build a mosque in Havana; however, the Government has not identified land for this project nor officially accepted the offer. The Government and the Muslim community disagree on construction of the mosque; the Government plans to present a completed structure to the officially recognized groups, but the Muslim community would like Muslims to build it.
The Cuban Government is working with the Government of Iran to provide a replacement for the leader of the Shi’a community when the current leader, Miguel Aquila Cardenas “Hassan Felix,” a native Cuban, travels to Iran to complete advanced studies.
Some sources estimate that about 80 percent of the population consults with practitioners of religions with West African roots. We’ll talk more about the Afro-Cuban religions a bit later on.
Foreign missionary groups operate through registered churches and are highly regulated. Visits by religious figures are handled by the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.
House churches are also subject to numerous regulations, many of which address location and hours of worship.
The Government has officially registered 1,640 house churches, but the status of up to 3,000 is pending.
Even though they are required to register with the Government, the majority of house churches are unregistered and thus technically illegal; however, most registered religious groups are able to hold services in private homes.
As you can see from the statistics I’ve just recounted, the religious communities in Cuba today are both diverse and quite active. The days when all sorts of religious expression were discouraged are now long gone.
You won’t want to miss our next post in this series. It’s going to provide the historical background that will help us understand the practice of religion in Cuba today. Sign up for our e-mail list to have it delivered to your mailbox automatically.