For the first time since the 1959 Revolution, communist Cuba has given the go-ahead for the construction of a Catholic Church, reports BBC News
"The Catholic community is big here but they've never had a church," says engineer Fausto Veloz about the impact the project will have on Santiago de Cuba, where the church will be built. It is the second largest city in a nation in which approximately 53 percent of the population is Catholic.
"I don't know how long it will take to complete but I'm sure we'll do it," Veloz told BBC News.
Veloz plans to recycle 25 tons of scrap metal that was used to construct a stage during Pope Benedict XVI's 2012 visit to Cuba to build the church.
"Reusing the metal means keeping alive the memory of something good for us Catholics. It gives it new life, so it can serve future generations," reports BBC News.
The project, which is expected to cost approximately $350,000, is largely being funded by a Catholic church in Tampa, Fla., according to Fox News Latino
The construction of a new church is remarkable because the Cuban government to date has only allowed for the refurbishment and renewal of existing churches.
While the Cuban government severely restricts religious practice, there have been some positive signs in recent years.
For example, Cuba's Office of Religious Affairs has loosened some restrictions on faith communities, but the ORA continues to require a license to import religious literature and other religious materials.
The Catholic Church has been able to print periodicals and other information and operate their own websites with little or no formal censorship. The ORA allowed for the broadcast of Christmas and Easter messages on state-run radio stations, according to the State Department's 2013 International Religious Freedom report
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
(USCCB), there are 304 parishes in Cuba.
Orlando Márquez Hidalgo, editor and director of the Havana Archdiocese publication Palabra Nueva (or New Word), told The Christian Post
relations are improving and that there is "open dialogue" between the Church and Cuban President Raúl Castro.
"There is an open dialogue, there is not a road map, there is an open dialogue where everything can be included," said Márquez. "They talked about the situation in Cuba and the relationship with the regime, how to improve the relations between the Church and the government."
According to the Brookings Institution
, the Catholic Church negotiated the release of 50 political prisoners in 2010-11.
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