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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Cuba’s first Catholic Church since the revolution opened its doors over the weekend.
For decade, Cubans who were religious suffered from discrimination at the hands of the officially atheist government of Fidel Castro.
A converted garage in the small Cuban town of Sandino is where mass used to be held.
The communist-run government wouldn’t let the Catholic Church build a new house of worship in Sandino, or for that matter anywhere else.
Cubans of faith made do with what they had.
On Saturday, Catholics in Sandino celebrated the first mass at their new church, the first to be built on the island since the 1959 revolution.
“To see this finished is like coming out of night into the day,” said Rev. Cirilo Castro, the Cuban Catholic priest who oversaw the construction. “We knew it would happen one day.”
Despite the rain that fell most of the weekend, people from the town and surrounding villages filled the church.
They had been waiting a long time for this day.
Even a local dog or two come in to see what the fuss was all about.
The church was built with nearly $100,000 in donations from a sister diocese in Tampa.
Father Ramon Hernandez left Cuba for Tampa almost forty years ago and came back to see the church open.
“In the United States, with $90,000 you can do nothing -but here yes,” said Rev. Hernandez.
Soon after taking power, Fidel Castro suspected the Catholic Church was conspiring against his officially atheist state.
Churches were shut down, priests thrown into re-education camps.
A dark history that the town of Sandino knows all too well.
In the early days of the Cuban Revolution, the remote town became notorious as a place where Cubans accused of engaging in anti-government activity were sent to live in internal exile, a kind of Cuban Siberia.
Now it will finally be famous for something else.
The Cuban Catholic Church says times have changed and they no longer face the same discrimination they once did.
“If there was a problem once between the Church and the state, than those things have been overcome, thanks to God,” said Rev. Castro.
A church sixty years in the making and proof that hope is never lost.