While relations are better between Fidel Castro's government and Catholics a year after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba, Protestant pastors say they are no better off and, in some cases, worse than before.

Since the papal visit (CT, Jan. 12, 1998, p. 18), the government has confiscated at least one evangelical church property. Several pastors report they have been prevented from completing parsonages and sanctuaries after authorities revoked building permits. And though the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba had worked for a year with government officials to plan a November international youth conference in the southern city of CamagŸey, authorities canceled it just three weeks before the scheduled opening. Government officials told Baptist pastors that the cancellation resulted from hurricane damage, even though CamagŸey had not been affected. Officials rejected pastors' suggestions that other cities host the conference. A week later a Communist youth gathering in the city went ahead as planned.

"The pope's visit was a political maneuver to give an image to the world," says Osmel Perez, a Baptist pastor in the central Cuba town of Esperanza. He believes the visit served to strengthen Catholic church and state ties, to the exclusion of evangelicals. "The pope came to represent Catholics, not us. The bishops are benefiting from his visit."

RESTRICTIONS CONTINUE: A holiday visit to cities throughout the island revealed homes and evangelical churches adorned in twinkle lights and suddenly legal artificial Christmas trees. Crumbling Catholic churches, however, are ringed by scaffolding and workers repairing damage wrought by 40 years of government refusal to grant the wood, nails, and other materials needed for upkeep.

While in 1998 ...

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