s A background and chronology of Castro-Vatican relations

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A background and chronology of Castro-Vatican relations

American Atheist #377, 19 January 1997

1927 -- Fidel Castro is born in Mayari on August 13. Raised and educated in a Roman Catholic environment, he receives a law degree from the University of Havana in 1950.

1952 -- Fulgencio Batista seizes control of the government. An army commander, Batista was already a political power-broker, and had led a military coup, deposed one president (Cespedes), and installed others. Batista is generally supported by the church; his regime is peppered with corruption which limits the success of economic reforms. In addition, the dictator, who has suspended civil rights and the Cuban constitution, is considered a tool of foreign interests linked to banks, corporations, and even organized crime interests such as Florida mobster Santo Trafficante.

1953 -- Castro is jailed for his role as a leader in the July 26th Movement which attacked military barracks in Oriente Province. He is sentenced to death, but Bishop Enrique Perez Serantes of Santiago urges mercy. In 1955, Castro is release, and goes into exile, but returns in 1956 to organize rebellion from his base in the Sierra Maestra region.

1959 -- On January 1, Batista flees Cuba and Fidel Castro takes power, becoming premier on Feb. 16. The National Catholic Congress organizes a mass rally in the Plaza of the Revolution, which Castro attends. He is lauded by church and political figures for overthrowing Batista, but clerics warn of the threat of communism and atheism.

1960 -- Cuban bishops release a Pastoral Letter praising social reforms, but warning about increased secularism, atheism and communism. On October 19, 1960, the United States imposes a trade embargo against Cuba due to the expropriation of assets owned by major corporations.

1961 -- Castro closes all private, religious schools, but leaves seminaries and some churches alone. This follows a complete break in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. On April 17, 1961, anti-Castro exiles launch the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion; Cuban troops then seize a number of churches and properties linked to the church. More than 100 priests are expelled, and 460 others leave the nation on their own.

1962 -- Cuban missile crisis erupts as Soviet installations are discovered. The Cuban constitution is modified to render the country an "atheist" state.

1968 -- The Conference of Latin American bishops endorses a version of so- called "liberation theology." The Vatican is seriously divided, though, on the role of over political activism by certain priests, and what it sees as its larger, long-term mission.

1969 -- Catholic bishops denounce the U.S. economic embargo. The government announces that it will no longer recognize Christmas as an official state holiday; Castro says that the celebration interferes with the sugar harvest.

1971 -- Meeting in Chile with religious leaders, Castro describes the similarities between Christianity and revolutionaries.

1984 -- Castro attends a Methodist service along with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Catholic officials.

1990 -- Castro scuttles plans for a possible papal visit after accusing the church of "anti-revolutionary meddling." With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Cuba no longer has the ideological and economic support of Russia

1991 -- Communist Party of Cuba ends in ban on membership by Christians.

1992 -- The Cuban constitution is amended to render the country secular, rather than "atheist."

1996 -- Castro meets with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, extends a formal invitation for the pontiff to visit Cuba. Bishop Agustin Roman of Miami declares, "The Holy Father wants four things: access to mass media, Catholic schools, permission to receive priests from around the world, and the right to expand Catholic charity work in Cuba." Cuban exiles in Miami and elsewhere, however, are outraged, and one exile leader sees any meeting between John Paul and Castro as a arrangement between "the devil and the saint." Castro attends the World Food Summit in Rome which is officially opened by Pope John Paul II; and Vatican officials declare in a report that "hungry and malnourished people had 'the right to food', a phrase the US wants to keep out of the World Food Summitt communique." (London Times). In a Vatican meeting with Castro, the pope laments the fact that there are fewer than 200 Roman Catholic priests left in the country; Castro reportedly leaves the meeting in tears. Vatican and Cuban officials begin work planning for the papal visit in 1997.

1997 -- Christmas is celebrated as an official holiday, ostensibly "for one year only," in anticipation of the papal visit.