Just 357 priest working to evangelize 11.2 million people, along with 2,000 faithful who offer their homes where there are no church buildings — these are among the aspects that Pope Francis will encounter when he visits Cuba later this month. Pope Francis will be in Cuba Sept. 19-22, and from there he will go to Washington, D.C. Cuba was first inhabited by several indigenous groups when it was first visited by Christopher Columbus in 1492, and it was evangelized by the Spanish in the 16th century. Today, according to the Archdiocese of San Cristobal de la Habana, the Church in Cuba has 650 churches, 325 of which are parishes. However, in many rural areas churches are few and far between. After the 1959 Cuban revolution, church buildings were barred from being built: a prohibition that was not lifted until earlier this year. Starting in the 1970s an effort called “Mission Houses” was launched to address this situation. These are the “new communities that grow out of neighborhoods or new settlements that lack a church; they are centered in particular homes that the owners make available for prayer and an occasional Mass,” according to the Havana archdiocese.There are currently 2,300 of these houses, and 62 percent of them are located in rural areas. The work of evangelization is carried on by 180 diocesan priests and 117 religious, supported by 84 permanent deacons, who are spread among the island's 11 dioceses. There are also presently 96 religious communities on the island, 70 for women and 26 for men. Pope Francis will visit the cities of Havana, Holguin, and Santiago de Cuba, saying Mass in each of them. In addition, he will meet with officials of the government and the Communist party, as well asl clergy and youth, and visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. Francis' visit to Cuba follows those of his immediate predecessors: Benedict XVI in 2012, and St. John Paul II in 1998.
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