BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) A United Methodist bishop who recently returned from a visit to Cuba said he saw proof that the communist government of Fidel Castro was easing restrictions on churches.
Bishop Robert E. Fannin of North Alabama witnessed a mass baptism of 200 people while attending the Methodist Evangelism Leadership Summit in Havana.
Cuban leaders were ''very open to us, very appreciative of what the United Methodist church does in Cuba,'' said Fannin, vice chairman of the evangelism division of the World Methodist Council.
While Cuba became officially atheist in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power, the government removed references to atheism in the constitution more than a decade ago and allowed religious believers to join the Communist Party.
Castro's government had seized control of all church property when it took power, but the government has returned some Methodist holdings in recent years. Methodists are negotiating for more, while seeking permission to expand the denomination's work, Fannin said.
Not all denominations have been successful in their negotiations with Castro's government. ''It's more receptive to certain churches,'' Fannin said.
Castro recently financed construction of a Havana cathedral for Orthodox Christians. That church was consecrated in January.
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