Cuban Pastor Continues Church Occupation

Isbel Diaz Torres

Curious onlookers during the August 2011 occupation that was international news. Photo: JLB

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 30 — The pastor who barricaded himself inside his Havana church this past August, along with 60 others of his followers, still remains in that place of worship, which is also his home.

Though this became a high-profile case involving more than 300 police officers cordoning off the block — in addition to articles in the international press, commentaries in blogs, a news note in the official Granma newspaper, and statements from religious institutions on the island — nothing more has been reported on the case since this past summer.

Braulio Herrera Tito, who was pastor of the largest Evangelical Pentecostal church in Havana, had been ordered by the authorities to leave the premises long before those events.

In fact, a month prior to the uproar, the religious denomination had removed him as pastor. This had been done for “reasons of an internal nature,” according to an article in Granma (which never misses an opportunity to use its cryptic language and promote secrecy as its essential bulwark).

Those “reasons of an internal nature” seem to have been very simple. As I was told “off the record” by a friend who attends another nearby Protestant place of worship, the pastor wanted to remain in his house and not be rotated – as is standard practice for the “Assemblies of God” religious denomination.

This situation, mixed with Tito Herrera’s particular worldview on religion, led him to plan the church occupation. This was said to have had nothing to do with the ecclesiastical denomination of the church, according to William Herrera Pereira, the eldest son of the pastor who had also remained held up in the church of his own will.

In fact, they don’t consider themselves part of any particular denomination, which explains the position of the Council of Churches of Cuba, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, the Ecumenical Center and the Coto Augustus Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, which all disapproved of the religious initiative.

Rather than a ritualistic retreat, the parishioners considered the action itself as “strict obedience to God,” said the pastor’s son at that time in a telephone conversation with the artist and dissident blogger Orlando Luis Pardo.

Fortunately, the prophesized apocalyptic end of the world and the tsunamis that were to hit the island were only part of the folkloric rumors of the street and were never among the reasons that moved the parishioners or their pastor.

At the request of relatives of those who had voluntarily locked themselves in, these begin gradually abandoning the retreat. Nonetheless, worship sessions in the Centro Habana church continue to take place, with about 50 people regularly attending the services led by Braulio Herrera Tito.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

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