In a historic announcement Dec. 17, President Barack Obama said the United States would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba after 54 years of isolationist foreign policy toward the island nation that included a crippling trade embargo. The decision will have far-reaching effects on the island nation’s economic and diplomatic situation and on the lives of its 11.26 million citizens, but it may also mean that new possibilities open up for the Episcopal Church of Cuba (ECC).
U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori lauded the decision on the part of both countries to release political prisoners who have been held in captivity for years. “The return of Alan Gross and the remaining three of the Cuban Five to their homes will bring great rejoicing to their families and their nations,” she said in a statement. “This action also opens the door to regularized relations between these two countries for the first time in 50 years.”
Upon hearing the news that the U.S. and Cuba would re-establish diplomatic ties, Bishop Michael Bird of the diocese of Niagara said in a statement that the diocese “rejoices at the transformational opportunities that this announcement holds for the Cuban people and the ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba.” The diocese of Niagara and the Episcopal diocese of Cuba maintain a companion relationship.
When asked how changes in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba might affect the position of the ECC, Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, stressed that there is still much that is unknown.
“I think people are imagining all kinds of futures right now, and I think it’s a wonderful moment when suddenly all of those imagined futures open up,” he said. “Over the course of time, as the consequences of the changes become clear and what possibilities emerge, then I think the future relationships of the diocese of Cuba with Canada, The Episcopal Church (TEC), the West Indies [and] the Anglican Communion will become clearer.
“We have some kind of a future together as partners in the Anglican Communion,” said Thompson, “and it may be quite different from the present, but it will always be informed by the warm relationships between our two churches.”
The ECC, which has around 3,500 members, has been in a strange position since the revolution of 1959. When Fidel Castro ousted the U.S.-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban church was still part of province IX of TEC. Following the revolution and the flaring of cold war hostilities between the United States and Cuba’s communist government, however, the ECC’s place within the American church became increasingly untenable due to the difficulties of travel and communication. In 1967 it became an extra-provincial diocese.
Following the separation of the ECC from TEC, the Metropolitan Council of Cuba was created to ensure the ECC would have sufficient support and oversight. The council consists of the primates of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Province of the West Indies and the presiding bishop of TEC. Because Canada never broke off diplomatic ties with Cuba, the relationship between Canada and Cuba, and between their respective Anglican churches, became very close. Both the primate and the general secretary travel to Cuba every year to meet with the diocesan bishop and members of the diocesan council. The Canadian church also offers various grants and financial services to Cuban Episcopal parishes.