Cuba and Their Houses of Prayer/House Churches Today


By Robert S. Pelton, CSC

During the last 60 years the Small Christian Community (SCC) has staged a comeback. I had the good fortune to travel and work with communities all over the world. That is why my contribution may be helpful.[i]

One of the particular interests for ecclesial research in Cuba has been the role of “House Churches.” During the fall semester of 2016 Professor Peter Casarella of the Theology Department of Notre Dame and I co-taught an advanced course entitled “The Church and the Dynasty.”[ii] We visited Cuba during the course.

During earlier visits to Cuba, I visited these experimental “Houses of Cuban Prayer.” This was principally in Havana. See my article “Learning from the Cuban House Churches” in Joseph Healey and Jeanne Hinton (eds.), Small Christian Communities Today: Capturing the New Moment, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005; Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2006; and Bangalore: Claretian Publications, 2006.

Like SCCs elsewhere, the Cuban House Churches have various names: “Houses of Prayer," “House Churches, “Casas Mision,” “Small Communities,” etc. For this presentation, I use the term “Houses of Prayer.”

In 1962, the Cuban government did not allow adding on to church structures, but it did permit the existence of “Houses of Prayer” that had a pastoral relationship with the parish and diocese. At the beginning of 1996, the Cuban Church began serious pastoral planning for the dioceses of the Cuban Church.[iii]

A Brief Background for the Cuban Catholic Church in the first Half of the 20th Century (1900-1950). In this period, there were many private Catholic schools.  There were also private hospitals, the Catholic Action Movement, various religious orders, etc. This was radically changed with the Cuban Revolution in 1959. All private education was forbidden, and church activities were curtailed. In the 1950s worship was limited to taking place within the churches. Many priests left the country. In 1962, the government did not give permission to build new churches. In 1986 there took place the Encuentro Nacional Eclesial Cubano. This was called “A Pentecost for the Cuban Church.” Then the papal visits began (first Juan Pablo II and then Benedict).

In 2012, the Cuban Catholic Church expressed its mission, along with other Catholic Conferences of Latin America. This has led to definite growth in the number of “Houses of Prayer” in Cuba. There are about 2,300 Cuban “Houses of Prayer” at this time.

Beginning in 1996 the Cuban Conference and also some dioceses developed pastoral plans that included types of Small Communities. One study of the dioceses with Houses of Prayer found that they are 74% rural and the rest are urban. 55% have a social purpose.

The emphasis upon rural communities is an important step for the Cuban Church. It is opening to the larger world.

[i] January 12, 2017: Statement by Father James O’Halloran on the occasion of German documents given to the Pelton Collection (Notre Dame).

[ii] Professor Peter Casarella is my successor as the Director of Latin American/North American Church Concerns (LANACC) of the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame.

[iii] The figures provided in this article come from a study on the Cuban Catholic Church referred to in the “Study of the Conference” under the chair of the National Commission and Bishop Emilio Arangueren of Holquin, Cuba (2012).

Rev. Robert S. Pelton, CSC is an American Holy Cross priest based at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, USA.

Rev. Bob Pelton CSC

Our Lady of Fatima House

P.O. Box 929

Notre Dame, IN 46556-0929, U.S.A.



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