What does the possible normalization of relations with Cuba mean for the Church?

The Church has very quietly been growing in Communist Cuba. There are now two branches in the capital, Havana. Elder Bednar dedicated the country for preaching the Gospel in February 2012, and Elder Holland visited again this summer. The Church News quoted Elder Holland as saying: “Although we are small in number, each member is precious to us, and Cuba is precious to us.”

Elder Holland visited the site of Elder Bednar’s dedication, which overlooks Havana, and said, “the promises of the dedicatory blessing are unfolding.”

President Obama’s announcement Wednesday that he would seek the normalization of relations with Cuba seems to be coming right on schedule. It is easy to imagine that increased travel and trade with the United States would very soon lead to missionaries and strong growth of the Church in the coming years.

This story from the Deseret News has some interesting tidbits.

Though it is not registered, the Cuban department of religious affairs welcomed the church in 2004, when the first branch was established, and it and other faiths have helped the church find locations for worship.

Elder Holland also met with government officials in June.

That doesn’t mean missionary work is likely to happen quickly, Martinich added. In recent decades, the church generally has moved meticulously before opening a mission in a country where it hasn’t had one before.

“I wouldn’t imagine a mission there for a few years,” Martinich said. “What’s more likely to happen is that, when and if Cuba gives the church official recognition, missionaries would be reassigned from another mission,” such as one in the Dominican Republic.

One first already happened three years ago: A Cuban native from the Havana Branch served an LDS mission in the United States beginning in 2011.

I held a calling with Church public affairs in Miami for several years. I can tell you that the Church is extremely cautious about its relationship with the Cuban government and sensitive to Cuban sovereignty. General Authorities have been traveling to Cuba regularly for many years to help smooth the way for Church growth.

Reports from Havana indicate there are many new religions operating there now. This story from the Havana Times reports:

According to the Roman Catholic Church, about 60 percent of the Cuban population is Catholic, although this figure does not account for the number of active members.

Santería – a syncretic Afro-Cuban religion that was brought by Yoruba slaves and disguised under Catholicism – is widely practiced throughout the country. Protestants are estimated to compose 5 percent of the population and are comprised of Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and Quakers. There are also small communities of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormons.

Although statistics on the number of Bahá’ís in Cuba are unavailable, Bahá’í representatives are located in Havana, Villa Clara and Camagüey City. Devotees in Havana attend the National Bahá’í Center in Central Havana, which was created in 2004.

It is worth pointing out that there are hundreds if not thousands of Cuban-American Mormons in the United States with family still on the island. It is easy to imagine a scenario where the normalization of relations leads to more travel back and forth and many more conversions as Cuban-Americans discuss religion with family and friends.

It is awe-inspiring to witness as the Church continues its persistent march across the globe. There will be much more good news in the years ahead.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

7 thoughts on “What does the possible normalization of relations with Cuba mean for the Church?

  1. Great post, Geoff. I was absolutely thrilled when I heard the news. When I lived in Arizona, Senator Jeff Flake (who was at the time serving in the House) was a big advocate of improving relations and trade with Cuba. Looks like we are one step closer!

    Granted, we need to see big improvements in human rights in Cuba, but that will surely come as we open trade with our neighbors in Cuba.

  2. My wife’s uncle was we believe the first Cuban patriarch set apart here in the United States. His name was Jose Elias Toledo. Our ward in Jersey City NJ had a number of Cubans who were members. My wife’s cousin’s spouse who was also our bishop and from Havana later served in the stake presidency. I hope with this change which I have prayed for, for many years will allow the Church to prosper in ncuba. Of course letting go of coffee is going to be the biggest challenge. Cubans are warm, outgoing and very well educated. There is much potential for growth there.

  3. A lot of credit has been given to the pope for helping orchestrate this, and it would be ironic if the Church grows in Cuba like it has in other Latin American countries as a result of the pope’s influence.

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