Cuba Catholics to open first new seminary in decades

Tue Nov 2, 2010 4:39pm EDT
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By Esteban Israel

PENALVER, Cuba (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church will open on Wednesday its first new seminary in Cuba in more than half a century in a further sign of its improving relations with the island's communist-led government.

Workers this week put the final touches to the salmon-colored complex of buildings organized around a chapel with stained-glass windows, eight miles south of Havana.

The seminary replaces a similar complex expropriated by Cuba's communist authorities in 1966 and transformed first into a military barracks, then a police academy. A seminary is a school that teaches theology and religious history and prepares students for priesthood.

Catholic officials said Cuban President Raul Castro was expected to attend the inauguration -- reflecting the more cordial relations between the Church and the government.

The two sides for a long period were at odds following the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and transformed the island into a communist state.

Since Raul Castro took over the presidency in 2008 because of his elder brother's failing health, he has pursued better relations with what is one of the country's largest and most socially influential institutions outside of the government.

"He knows what the construction of this means to us. The president is well disposed toward the Church and he is showing that with his presence at the inauguration," Antonio Rodriguez, rector of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio seminary, told Reuters.

'LOOK AT IT WITH HOPE'   Continued...

<p>A cross is carried through downtown Havana during the procession of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, September 8, 2003. REUTERS/Claudia Daut</p>