Cuba’s Government Shuts Down Priest’s Peaceful Protest

The Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba “manages the different aspects of religious life” in the country, as noted in the 2023 Religious Freedom Report of Aid to the Church in Need.

Father Alberto Reyes has emerged as a critical voice against the extreme poverty and repressive actions of Cuba's police state. (Photo: Credit: Rachel Diez/EWTN Noticias)

Last week, Cuban priest Father Alberto Reyes started a peaceful protest over the situation in the country: ringing the bells of his parish as a sign of mourning every night there was no electricity. 

The priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey had announced his plan on May 17 in his column called “He Estado Pensando” (“I Have Been Thinking”), which he posts periodically on Facebook to reflect on the reality of life in Cuba.

In his post, Father Reyes had encouraged Cubans to stop collaborating with the regime by taking actions such as not attending its political meetings or joining the rapid-response brigades — used to repress opponents — among other measures.

Instead, he invited his compatriots to “speak based on the truth, publicly and from what is evident, from the reality that cannot be denied, without lying, without justifying the unjustifiable. And pray, so that the freedom with which God created us makes headway in our land.”

“I, in fact, have thought of a way, and it’s this: From now on, every night that we do not have electricity, I will ring the church bells 30 times, with the slow ringing of funeral processions, with the ringing that announces death and mourning: the agonizing death of our freedom and our rights, the suffocation and collapse of our lives,” wrote Father Reyes, pastor of the parish in Esmeralda.

However, after two nights, the priest was ordered to stop his peaceful protest.

On Facebook Cuban layman Osvaldo Gallardo, who currently lives in the United States and maintains contact with Father Reyes, indicated that the archbishop of Camagüey, Wilfredo Pino, told the priest to stop his initiative.

“Behind this ban, without a doubt,” Gallardo said, “is Caridad Diego Bello and her Office of Religious Affairs at the service of the PCC [Cuban Communist Party].” 

Citing sources close to the Church, the Cuban media outlet 14ymedio indicated that Pino’s request was “clear” and “for the good of the Church and Father Alberto.”

According to the news outlet, “pressure from the PCC Religious Affairs Office, headed by Caridad Diego, are constant, but in the last three years, after the demonstrations of July 11, 2021, they have intensified, especially with the prohibition of processions and celebrations in numerous churches for fear of new protests.”

The Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba “manages the different aspects of religious life” in the country, as noted in the 2023 Religious Freedom Report of Aid to the Church in Need.

In this regard, in his Dec. 14, 2022, column, Father Reyes said that this office is “in charge of controlling the practice of the faith, of supervising each movement of the Church, and of insistently calling the bishops and superiors when what a priest or religious says or does bothers them, to try to make them the ones who ‘bring that priest or religious to heel’ while those really behind it are left with clean hands.”

In December 2020, ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, learned of one example of the pressure exerted by the PCC office when it ordered a parish in Camagüey not to hold Christmas parades, arguing that it was to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, despite the fact that other activities in the province had not been restricted.

Father Reyes in Danger

Speaking with ACI Prensa, Gallardo asked Christians to pray for the personal safety of Reyes. “According to my opinion and judgment, he is in danger because it’s difficult to be a prophet in Cuba, … where he may or may not find support in the people around him, even within the Church itself,” he said.

Gallardo noted that for years the pastor of the Esmeralda parish has “raised his voice” in support of all the Cuban people “to denounce, to raise awareness about the reality” of the country. There is no religious freedom in Cuba, there is no freedom in Cuba, in any way,” he added.

“Cuba suffers and the Catholic Church in Cuba suffers the repression of a regime that ignores all the demands of the people or for freedom,” he stressed.

Gallardo thus reiterated his request for believers and people of goodwill to pray “for Father Alberto, because I believe that his personal safety and his freedom may be in danger at this time.”

Diego López Marina contributed to this article.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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