First new Catholic seminary in 50 years inaugurated in Cuba

By staff writers
November 6, 2010

Cuba's Catholic bishops have inaugurated the country's first major church-related construction in the half century since Fidel Castro's revolution.

President Raul Castro was a guest of honour at the ceremony to mark the launch of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary.

Cuba's bishops and representatives of the Vatican and the Catholic Church in the United States, Mexico, Italy and the Bahamas were among those present in Havana on 3 November 2010.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana reminded the gathering that the late Pope John Paul II blessed the first stone of the new seminary at a Mass during his January 1998 visit to the island.

Then-President Fidel Castro pledged his support for the project, the cardinal said. "Now that promise has been faithfully completed," he declared. The building received state funding.

A message from Pope Benedict XVI said he hoped the seminary's inauguration would be "a sign and a stimulus for a renewed commitment to strive for careful human, spiritual and academic preparation" for priestly ministry.

The seminary, which can house 100 people, will open to students next year on 54 acres of former farmland southeast of Havana.

Mexican newspaper La Jornada explained that in 1966, in the early days of the Castro regime when tensions with the Catholic Church were high, the Church was forced to turn over to the government the previous San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, built in 1948.

Classes were then moved to a colonial cloister in Havana's historic district, where they have been located ever since. That building will become a cultural centre and studio, housing a library and space for exhibitions, concerts, theatre and film screenings, says the Catholic News Service.

The country's only other Catholic seminary is in Santiago de Cuba, on the southeastern coast.

The Cuban government still comes under criticism for its treatment of some religious groups, and for its general human rights record.

Relations with mainline Protestants have been much more positive in recent years, and many church members back the Cuban government's social policies.

But it is over issues of freedom of speech and political reform where tensions remain, though commentators suggest that progress is being made on these fronts under Raul Castro.

Fidel Castro, the 'father of the revolution' in Cuba, has maintained a long-term interest in theology and has been supportive towards progressive movements within the churches, though he remains a non-believer himself.


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