Cubans are gearing up for this weekend’s papal visit. For the first time since becoming pontiff, Pope Francis travels to the Caribbean island, landing on September 19 in Havana, then traveling to Holguin, and taking off from Santiago de Cuba on September 22 for the United States. He traveled to Cuba at least once before as coadjutor archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1997, after which he wrote a book criticizing the socialist revolution and the U.S. embargo on the island.
With a secular state since the 1959 revolution, a large portion of Cubans grew up without any religious affiliation. Though the Communist government allows Cubans to congregate in places of worship, religious discrimination was widespread until the 1990s. Before then, religious persons could not join the Communist Party, and mentions of God during interviews could prevent access to jobs. Then a 1992 amendment removed references to atheism in the constitution and things started changing; in 1998, Fidel Castro removed the ban on Christmas.
While some restrictions remain, such as on the construction of new religious buildings, Cubans very much like the Catholic Church and Pope Francis. President Raúl Castro even said that he’s so impressed with the pope, he might consider returning to the church himself.