On Sunday, May 21, members and leaders of the Church participated in the creation of the Guaramanao Branch, the fifth congregation of the Havana Cuba District of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Earlier the same weekend, the Havana Branch held an open house at a rented facility that had been renovated and prepared to accommodate Church meetings and activities.
The next day, Church members gathered at a beach on the outskirts of Havana for a baptismal service for three Latter-day Saint converts.
In the near future, 20 Cuban members will travel to the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple to receive personal ordinances and perform work for their deceased ancestors.
Since the first branch was organized in 2004, more than 600 Cubans have joined the Church of Jesus Christ without the help of full-time missionaries, demonstrating gradual but steady growth in the Caribbean nation, said Elder Eduardo Gavarret, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s Caribbean Area. The Church does not have full-time missionaries in the island nation.
“Without a doubt, the Spirit of the Lord is working on the Cuban people in order to accelerate His work,” Elder Gavarret said.
The Havana Cuba District conference
Elder Gavarret presided at the district conference, accompanied by his wife, Sister Norma Gavarret, and President Julio C. Acosta and his wife, Sister Ramona Acosta, leaders of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission, to which the Church district in Cuba is attached. President and Sister Acosta completed their mission in June.
The conference was conducted by Luis W. Tito, who serves as district president.
Jorge Alberto Batista Rondón, who led a group that traveled more than 400 miles by bus, a three-day journey, to participate in the conference, was sustained as president of the new Guaramanao Branch.
For the first time, 25 young men and young women participated in a youth session as part of the district conference.
In addition to the conference, Church leaders met with government authorities regarding religious topics, humanitarian partners and other religious leaders in Cuba.
A new meeting place
The Havana Branch’s new rented and renovated facility is the first building in the country to be granted exclusive use for the Church, giving Latter-day Saints a place of their own for worship services and other activities.
The open house for the new meeting place took place Friday, May 19.
“During the open house, the effervescence that this event produced in the Church members was noticeable,” Elder Gavarret said. “As a result, some of the members who were not participating regularly in the Sunday meetings have returned to activity.”
For more than a decade, the Church has joined efforts with organizations such as Caritas Cubana, which is the humanitarian arm of the Catholic Church, the United Nations World Food Program and other local partners to help provide resources and assistance to the needy.
One of the local organizations is Cabildo Quisicuaba, a social and cultural entity that helps people in vulnerable situations, providing food, clothing, household goods and other basic needs with local and international aid.
Enrique Alemán operates a social assistance program through Cabildo Quisicuaba, which, among other things, maintains a dining room that provides more than 12,000 portions of food daily to people in need in Central Havana and other areas of the city.
“The help we have received through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be described in words, but just by looking at the faces of those who receive help and are grateful for it with their souls,” Alemán said.
The Church in Cuba
The Church’s first Cuban branch was organized in 2004 as government officials in the country’s Department of Religious Affairs welcomed the Church and assisted in its efforts to locate suitable places to worship.
Jesus Ernesto Rodriguez, who along with his wife, Anatalia, and their daughter Sandra pioneered the Church in Cuba, served as its first branch president for more than 10 years.
Elder David A. Bednar dedicated the land of Cuba for the preaching of the gospel on Feb. 16, 2012.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles created the Church’s second branch in Cuba on Sunday, June 15, 2014, during a branch conference attended by almost 100 people.
On Oct. 23, 2019, the Church’s First Presidency hosted a visit from Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., José R. Cabañas, at Church headquarters.
“My dear brothers and sisters, be of good cheer, despite the difficulties you may have to face,” Elder Soares said.