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Rev. Francisco Marrero of Cuba: “Society is More United Today”

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On July 10th in Washington DC, Reverend Francisco Marrero, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (PRCC), discussed the role of the PRCC in Cuba. In celebration of the 45th anniversary in which the PRCC became autonomous from the New Jersey Senate of the Presbyterian Church, Marrero shared the strides the PRCC had made as well as the challenges the church still faces in light of its strong and active presence within Cuba’s ecumenical community.

The PRCC has not only grown in congregation size in historically secular Cuba, but internationally as well. As a member of the World Council of Churches for many years, as well as the Latin American Council of Churches and the Cuban Consulate of Churches, the PRCC marks its 45th anniversary by continuing its ecumenical projects in the form of urban gardening, canned foods, water relativism and support programs for people with HIV/AIDS.

“We sometimes think Cuba is cut off, but it’s really only cut off from the U.S.,” said Marilyn Seiber of DC’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, present at this event.

Marrero started his U.S. tour in New Mexico, traveled to Colorado, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and now Washington. He met with Presbyterian Church members and those interested in Cuba across the nation. He describes that in Cuba with 50 congregations and approximately 4,000 active PRCC members, there are 35 pastors and 22 of them are active. Of these 22, Marrero points out that 7 are over retirement age.

“In fact, one of the biggest challenges is the lack of pastors in our congregations,” Marrero said. “Eighteen pastors have left the country and that’s put us in a tense situation.”

Even with a lack of pastors, the PRCC continues to grow.

“There is a shift of what is thought to be Cuba’s historic religion and the reality of the churches today. There was a dramatic increase of participation of the PRCC in the 90s, and now it has sort of stabilized. I don’t have formal statistics, but based on my observations, many people in the streets may say they are Catholic but the reality is these people are not practicing Catholicism. We’re living through a very special moment between the churches and the state right now. There’s a constant dialogue between the churches and the state.”

With the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI and the increased interaction between church and state, the presence of church in daily life and different religious organizations are much more visible than in recent years. As a result, more social services for the youth, elderly and children are being seen in the churches.

“Society is more united today than before in finding solutions. The world of churches in Cuba is not perfect with the government, but we think it’s moving along the right path. To be honest, I’d say that the relationship between churches and state in Cuba is better than in other countries where people might think there is more freedom of religion.”