Text and Photos by Kelly Knaub

National Bahá'í Center of Cuba

HAVANA TIMES, July 23 – Victoria La Rosa, 48, recalls the night her friend Ricardo Cao called her while she was reading the Bible. “I was searching for something,” La Rosa said.  When Cao asked La Rosa if she was Christian, she replied yes.  La Rosa asked Cao if he was also Christian, and he replied that he was Bahá’í.  La Rosa, never having heard of such a thing, argued with him about his faith.

Cao lent her several Bahá’í books and La Rosa remained skeptical until she read the third one, Thief in the Night, which describes the Biblical prophecies that are fulfilled in the Bahá’í Faith.

La Rosa read the book all night and couldn’t put it down until the following morning.  She called Cao later that evening and told him she wanted to go to the place he talked about, which turned out to be the Bahá’í Center in Central Havana.  La Rosa has been a Bahá’í follower ever since.

A Synopsis

The Bahá’í Faith, which arrived to Cuba in 1939, is an independent religion that embraces more than 2,100 ethnic and tribal groups in over 218 nations and is the second most widespread faith after Christianity.  The religion was founded just over 100 years ago by Bahá’u’lláh, a nobleman from Tehran, Iran, who claimed to be the most recent messenger of God.

Bahá'ís at the National Bahá'í Center in Havana

Bahá’ís believe that all the prophets of the world’s great religions – Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad – were sent by God over time to educate the human race at each particular period in history.  Unlike other religions, the Bahá’í Faith has not divided into sects or denominations.

La Rosa, who has been a Bahá’í for two years, said that the Baptist Church she previously attended did not fulfill her.  “It didn’t convince me,” she said.  “I read the Bible and I didn’t understand it.  One person would give one interpretation of the Bible, and another person would give another, and neither of them convinced me.”

Beliefs

The main message of the Bahá’í Faith is unity.  Bahá’u’lláh taught that there is only one God and one human race. The religion encompasses a belief system that is meant to promote the advancement of a global society.

Victoria La Rosa and a fellow Bahá'í during prayer.

Bahá’ís believe in the individual right to search for the truth, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, compatibility between science and religion, equality between the sexes, universal peace and education, and social and economic justice.  Their goal is to one day select or create a universal language and establish a world federal system that would peacefully unite the people of the world.

The Bahá’í Faith in Cuba

Oscar Asensio, 38, has been a Bahá’í for six years. Although Asensio said it’s not difficult being a Bahá’í in Cuba, the religion – along with all other faiths – was ostracized by the Cuban Communist Party after the Revolution until the government began to permit religious freedom in the early nineties.

Asensio said that the dire economic crisis Cuba experienced during this era, known as The Special Period, made the government realize that they couldn’t prohibit religion anymore.

Cuban Bahá'ís

“It helps the population psychologically, he said. “So they opened doors and made changes in the system.”

In 1992, the National Assembly of People’s Power approved a new constitution that abandoned the former atheistic nature of the Cuban state.  In 1998, Pope John Paul II’s visit to Havana opened an even wider space for religious freedom.

“Today you can practice religion, whatever religion, without any problem.  This helped the Bahá’í Faith,” Asensio said.

Today, many practicing religious devotees hold positions in the Communist Party and National Assembly of People’s Power, though most are comprised of Catholics and Protestants.

“Cuba, right now, is living a rebirth of interest in religions,” Asensio said.  “Because of the process of having lived 50 years of Revolution under a system that’s governed under the materialism of Marx and Engels, where that materialistic philosophy says that God doesn’t exist … the majority of the Cuban population doesn’t believe in God.”

Religion in Cuba

According to the Roman Catholic Church, about 60 percent of the Cuban population is Catholic, although this figure does not account for the number of active members.

Oscar Asensio at the Bahá'í Center in Havana.

Santería – a syncretic Afro-Cuban religion that was brought by Yoruba slaves and disguised under Catholicism – is widely practiced throughout the country.  Protestants are estimated to compose 5 percent of the population and are comprised of Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and Quakers. There are also small communities of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormons.

Although statistics on the number of Bahá’ís in Cuba are unavailable, Bahá’í representatives are located in Havana, Villa Clara and Camagüey City. Devotees in Havana attend the National Bahá’í Center in Central Havana, which was created in 2004.  Many come on Sunday mornings to pray and connect with other Bahá’ís.  The Center also holds other faith-oriented activities and informal gatherings at other times.

Roman Enriquez teaching at the Bahá'í Center.

Although the Cuban state now permits religious freedom, some Bahá’ís, like La Rosa, encounter disapproval from their families.

“My whole family is Catholic and Christian, and Christians don’t accept Bahá’ís,” La Rosa said.  But, she explained, her family accepts her faith “because there is no other alternative.”

“They pray a lot for me because they think I’m lost, that I’m wrong, but our relationship hasn’t ended because of it.  They pray for me and I pray for them, so we help each other.”


Kelly

Kelly Knaub: My interest in journalism comes from a desire to write, tell stories and appease my endless curiosity about the world. I spent five years teaching English to immigrants and refugees in New York City before embarking on my Masters degree in journalism at New York University last fall. I previously lived in Mexico for two years and traveled all over Central America. My experience as a human rights observer in a Zapatista village in Chiapas inspired me to become a journalist. By writing for Havana Times, I hope to contribute to a broader perspective of Cuba.

15 thoughts on “The Bahá’ís: A Global Faith in Cuba

  • Tengo unos amigos en el extranjero que quieren visitarlos
    Pueden darme un teléfono y dirección
    Gracias

  • Kelly , just a few corrections with your info.

    1- it has long been documented in print and the web that the membership numbers and representation of the Bahai faith have always been exagerated. ( I suggest a little more research)

    2- jehovah’s witnesses are NOT CHRISTIAN, never mind protestant!! (where are you hearing this *$&^* !!!)

  • Grady
    You commented this

    “I then came to the stunning conclusion that Engels and Marx must have been bourgeois agent provocateurs, sent into the movement to sabotage it from inside.”

    Can you tell us why you think so?

  • Julio: Well said.

    I think the historic Cuban leaders sincerely believe in Marx as the oracle of “real” socialism, and the whole Communist Manifesto/Stalin-Soviet dogma. They cannot be cynical. Fidel still does his best to change the world for the better, and I refuse to believe that either he or Raul maintain the status quo out of a desire to exploit the people, or to hold onto personal power for reasons of ego.

    The problem is that, for those of us who “radicalize” at some point and achieve the socialist epiphany, we are quickly recruited to and cocooned by some Marxist group. Since we trust this group to know what’s up, we soon “imprint on” the Marxist quasi-religious faith. We are then virtually blinded, as the victims of cults consistently are.

    Fidel and Raul are victims of this imprinting process. Now that they, like all the sectarians, believe in the true faith, they cannot see and interpret creatively what is right before their eyes. Yes, they apparently will beat that dead house until the very end, thinking all the while that they are being noble and are doing the correct, honorable thing.

    I believed in Marx and Marxism for nearly three decades. Then reality won out, because I sincerely want socialism, and I refused to give up the cause and go away. In the process I began to investigate employee-owned cooperatives, and realized that they are the true basis of a workable, democratic form of socialism.

    I then came to the stunning conclusion that Engels and Marx must have been bourgeois agent provocateurs, sent into the movement to sabotage it from inside. At this point the fog really lifted and everything began to make prefect sense.

    May I invite you to go to video.google.com and review two short films: The Mondragon Experiment, and Democracy in the Workplace. These films will help you understand what modern cooperative socialism and the Cooperative Republic Movement are all about. Cheers.

  • Grady you have express exactly why Marxism is not a science or does not follow the scientific method better than I probably could!
    Thanks!

    As you said

    They attach to Marxism as a religion and a holy scripture to be follow

    I really do not get why? Experience demonstrates otherwise.
    As we know Marx was a human and as human he was as fallible as any other.
    He experience a form of capitalism that no longer exist furthermore the thesis they proposed as solution to the economic problem failed miserably in practice. But in Cuba some how they refuse to see they are still mounted on a dead horse!
    It does not matter how much they kick this horse, it will not move forward for it is simply dead.

    What is worst they may know they are mounted on a dead horse but I guess they may think is better to be mounted even if the horse is dead that any other thing.

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