The first new Catholic church in Cuba since the the country’s revolution 60 years ago was inaugurated on Saturday.
Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Sandino, 45 miles southwest of Pinar del Rio, was inaugurated Jan. 26. It is the first of three new parishes to be completed; the other two will be in Havana and Santiago. It was built on land granted by the state.
"To see this finished is like coming out of the night into the day," said Father Cirilo Castro, who supervised the construction of the church, according to CNN. "We knew it would happen one day," he added.
The church is a sign of the country’s increase of religious freedom. Communist rule was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista.
Under communism churches and schools were closed, and priests were exiled or assigned to re-education camps. The Church was driven underground until religious tensions in the country began to ease in 1991. St. John Paul II then visited the island in 1998. Pope Francis played a role in the 2015 restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US.
The construction of Sandino’s new church building, which seats 200, was made possible by a $95,000 donation from St. Lawrence parish in Tampa, Fla.
"From the day they put the first stone we have been watching it grow little by little. Patience has given us this church," said Aleida Padrón Zabala, a Sadino resident who attended the church's inaugural Mass with her family, according to CNN.
Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa Perez of Pinar del Rio commented: “Sometimes you have to overcome many obstacles but then you get to a point where things can be accomplished.”