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Faithful hole up in Cuban church, spark tensions

By Shasta Darlington, CNN
Cuban police keep a street closed near the church (R) where more than 60 believers remain in spiritual retreat in Havana.
Cuban police keep a street closed near the church (R) where more than 60 believers remain in spiritual retreat in Havana.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pastor has invited 62 worshipers to a "spiritual retreat"
  • Three weeks later the retreat is still going
  • State media said authorities are working with church officials and relatives to find a peaceful solution
RELATED TOPICS
  • Cuba
  • Havana
  • Religion

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Some 62 worshippers -- including 19 minors -- have sequestered themselves inside a Pentecostal church in Havana for a "spiritual retreat" for the last three weeks, sparking concerns about their safety and speculation about a potential of a standoff with authorities.

The church's pastor, Braulio Herrera, invited followers to participate in the retreat starting on August 21. They remain holed up in the building by their own choice, according to Cuban state media and Herrera's son William.

"We are in a spiritual retreat," William Herrera told CNN by telephone. "We will continue until God tells us to stop. He is not a person, but he is real and he talks to us."

Herrera said that God was healing those who were sick and performing "other miracles" on the worshippers inside the Pentecostal Evangelical Church located in the run-down neighborhood of Centro Habana.

Part of the tension arises from the fact that Cuba's Assembly of God faith withdrew Braulio Herrera's credentials as a pastor in 2010 and the property belongs to them, not to Braulio Herrera.

According to Cuban state media, neighbors and relatives went to the authorities because they were worried about the children and four pregnant women inside.

Officials were able to send in a medical team who reported all were in good health and good spirits, according to the Granma newspaper.

The police have cordoned off the area around the church, blocking traffic and preventing access to journalists "to protect citizens' safety and avoid any incidents," the report added.

State media said authorities were working with church officials and relatives to try and find a peaceful solution.

But neighbors said they were nervous.

"This could get crazy. Who knows what they're going to do," said one retired man who lives two blocks from the church.

William Herrera told CNN that speculation about a suicide pact was "ridiculous."

"We believe firmly in the Bible and it says clearly that those who take their lives do not go to heaven," he said. "We want to find God, but not through death. This is the 21st century."