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Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate Via AP File
World News

As Cuba bans Catholic activities, charity calls to scrap Religious Affairs Office

Father Jorge Luis Pérez of the Havana Catholic Youth Ministry, explained in a Facebook video earlier this week that the Office of Religious Affairs of the Cuban Communist Party (ORA), had banned all public activities associated with National Youth Day, with the exception of one event in the city of Santiago.

Despite the arbitrary cancellation of all public National Youth Day celebrations, Father Pérez said that celebrations would continue to go ahead, but would have to be adjusted to take place inside Catholic Church properties.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis wrote a public letter to participants of the festival, inviting them to be "witnesses of His Resurrection" and willing to let themselves be transformed into missionary disciples, "so that many other young people may discover the presence of the Lord Jesus, listen to His call, grow in His friendship, and, in this way, live an existence founded on faith and mercy."

Last month in the capital city of Havana, police officials prevented a number of believers from attending the funeral of former Archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

Some members of the clergy we denied entry to the service, and threatened with arrest, while other mourners were forced to remain in their homes as the funeral proceedings took place.

Christian and friend of the late Cardinal Ortega, Mr Valdés Hernández shared his frustration at not being able to attend the service on Facebook, saying: "All I wanted to do was to go tomorrow to the Requiem Mass and the burial, to fulfil the obligation of a Christian and a Cuban; to pray for the eternal rest of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, as behoves a son of the Church. The authorities have stopped me"

Christian freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) have spoken out against the action of the ORA.

CSW's Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said: "There is no justification for blocking Cuban Catholics, including those who knew Cardinal Ortega personally, from participating in the funeral services and burial. Likewise, there is no good reason to arbitrarily cancel permits for almost all public activities associated with National Youth Day approximately a week before young Catholics were preparing to celebrate their faith.

"We continue to call for the abolition or reform of the Office of Religious Affairs, which remains the institution responsible for the most violations of freedom of religion or belief across Cuba."

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