Cuba makes Good Friday an official holiday

(Photo: REUTERS / Stringer)Roman Catholics carry a statue of Jesus Christ through the streets of Old Havana, during the "Via Crucis" (Way of the Cross) procession as part of Good Friday celebrations, April 18, 2014.

Cuba is to adhere to a request made by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the country in 2012 to make Good Friday a permanent official holiday.

The Catholic News Agency (CNA) reports that although the norm will not be in force until June, the Cuban Ministry Work and Social Security issued a special ruling allowing Cubans to observe Good Friday in 2014.

However, it said those who work in services such as sugar cane harvesting, shipping and receiving, transportation, health care, tourism and other services, would not be granted the holiday.

After the Communist Party under Fidel Castro assumed power in Cuba in 1959, religious holidays and practices were outlawed.

For decades all public displays of religious faith were banned by the ruling Communist Party and Good Friday processions took place within churches.

Cuba was officially an atheist state after the 1959 Revolution until 1992. In those years, religious believers were banned from serving in the military, holding government office and from even attending college and medical school.

Religious processions and Christmas were reinstated after John Paul II's visit to Cuba in 1998 as pontiff.

The Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops announced on their website this week that State television was to broadcast a passion play on Wednesday evening from the Cathedral of Havana.

The Catholic Church is the biggest Christian tradition in Cuban but there is a small minority of Protestants in the country.

The advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide says the Cuban government continues refusing to extend official recognition to newer religious groups denying them legal rights.

CSW in its 2013 report on religious freedom in January reported that Roman Catholic churches reported the highest number of violations, mostly involving the arrest and arbitrary detention of parishioners attempting to attend church activities.

Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches in different parts of the country reported consistent harassment and pressure from State security agents.

It said that in addition, government officials continued to refuse to register some groups, including the large Protestant network the "Apostolic Movement," threatening affiliated churches with closure.

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