Monday, March 19, 2012

Cuba's Catholic Church tries to fill gaps in social safety net

Published: Sunday, Mar. 18, 2012 - 1:00 am
Havana retiree Maria Antonia confesses that she would be starving without the free lunches doled out by her neighborhood Catholic church.

The 69-year-old widow has a $12-a-month pension that barely covers six to eight days worth of food per month, and she has no relatives abroad who can send her a few extra dollars.

"A free lunch is a life-saver when a pound of pork costs more than $1," says Maria Antonia. "The Church to me is not just a temple or a Mass. It is a way of surviving."

As Cuban ruler Raul Castro cuts government subsidies on the food and health sectors in an attempt to boost the all-but-stalled economy, the Roman Catholic Church is trying to fill the growing gaps in the island's unraveling social welfare net.

With millions in aid from Catholic exiles and groups abroad, parishes are increasingly running soup kitchens and health and education programs, and working with troubled families and HIV-positive Cubans.
"The needs are growing, and the state has limited resources," said Maritza Sanchez, director of Caritas Cubana, the island's branch of the worldwide Catholic relief, development and social service organization
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