An evangelical pastor and about 60 followers holed up in a Havana temple for more than three weeks are praying for “a new Cuba,” the group’s spokesman told journalists Monday.

Cuban police have surrounded the Pentecostal Assembly of God church since last week in a show of concern for the men, women and children that Pastor Braulio Herrera has said gathered for a simple “spiritual retreat.”

The show of force triggered rumors of a cult waiting for the end of the world. But knowledgeable Havana residents called it a “mutiny” sparked by a theological and property dispute between Herrera and his church leaders.

Ignacio Estrada, a dissident who has been in regular contact with Herrera’s son and spokesman, William, said the son’s latest message Monday evening was that the 60 people at the church were praying “to achieve a new Cuba.”

“They are praying for the Holy Spirit to make an appearance in Cuba now, and they are saying that God is going to pronounce himself on Cuba at any moment,” Estrada told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana. Herrera could not be immediately reached for comment.

“Maybe it’s a protest against the church or the government, but they deserve to be heard,” added Estrada, a gay activist against the government’s tough policies on HIV-positive Cubans.

In a separate interview published by blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, William Herrera said the group was involved in a strictly religious gathering and did not want but would no fight against a police intervention.

“Since it is a time of glorious illumination, with hard-hitting testimonies of revelations and joyful events revealed by God — a living God and not a paper God — there is simply no limit for this peaceful and transcendental retreat,” he was quoted as saying.

Two other Havana residents well informed on the Herrera case however said the pastor has had a long running theological dispute with his Assembly of God elders, arguing that God is known through “direct revelation” and not only the Bible.

Assembly of God officials recently fired him and ordered him to leave the temple and the adjoining church-owned apartment where Herrera lives, they added. Cuba suffers from a critical housing shortage.

The pastor’s 60 followers then gathered at the church “in a mutiny which they say — not to use the word ‘disguise’ — is a religious retreat,” said one Havana resident who has closely followed the story since its beginning but asked for anonymity to avoid becoming involved in it.

Earlier on Monday, William Herrera told journalists in Havana that the church has held previous spiritual retreats and can provide its followers with the “necessary conditions” for their nourishment and rest.

“We are simply holding a spiritual retreat, celebrating on God’s orders, and this will go on until God decides. This is not our decision,” he was quoted as telling a reporter for the French news agency Agence France Press.

Government officials sent two doctors into the church on Sunday to check on the health of four pregnant women inside, and reported that some relatives had expressed concern that the children inside are missing school.

“We are convinced that nothing bad will happen with the health of the people,” the AFP report quoted William Herrera as saying. “God has told us several times that there will be no problem.”



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