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Just days after President Donald Trump announced a scaling back of U.S. involvement with Cuba, the LDS Church enlarged its presence in the Caribbean country.
On June 18, the Utah-based faith created its first district in that island nation, independent Mormon demographer Matt Martinich reported. The Havana Cuba District includes two branches (small congregations) that meet in the capital city area.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown slowly in Cuba in the past decade, from a handful in one family in 2004, he said, to about 100 members today. And that's without any full-time Mormon missionaries serving there now or ever.
Though the church's membership figures haven't increased much in the past couple of years, Martinich said, the creation of a district suggests a maturing of local leadership.
"It's an important step," the demographer said, "indicating some progress toward self-sufficiency."
There was much excitement among Mormons in 2014, when then-President Barack Obama opened diplomatic avenues with communist Cuba for the first time in decades.
In June of that year, LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland and other church authorities visited Havana to launch the second branch and to laud the "modern-day pioneers" who helped build Mormonism there.
While in Havana, the LDS leaders huddled with representatives of the government's Department of Religious Affairs including Caridad Diego, who directs the department, according to the LDS Church News. They also met with leaders of the Catholic Church and representatives of the Cuban Council of Churches.
"The church blesses people and strengthens families wherever it is found throughout the world," Holland told the groups, the News reported, "and that is what we intend to do in Cuba."
Despite U.S. political shifts under Trump, Martinich still sees no reason why the LDS Church couldn't one day have missionaries in Cuba.
Even if that country objects to young proselytizers from the U.S,, there are no legal restrictions preventing the American-born faith from assigning full-time missionaries from other Caribbean or Latin American countries to serve there.
The LDS Church currently has "a sufficiently large number of Latin American missionaries to staff full-time missionary efforts in Cuba," said Martinich, who has extensive knowledge of Mormonism across the globe.
The Havana District is part of the faith's Dominican Republic Santiago Mission, he said, which "maintains a large Spanish-speaking full-time missionary force. "
It seems "unusual and inexplicable that we don't have missionaries there," he said Thursday. "I think it will happen. I just don't know when."