BY: DICKERSON, A.J. ; Associated Press Writer DATELINE: HILEAH, Fla. (AP) June 04, 1987 A

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BY: DICKERSON, A.J. ; Associated Press Writer DATELINE: HILEAH, Fla. (AP) June 04, 1987 A priest of a religion that sacrifices animals and is practiced by much of Florida's Latin population claimed Thursday that city harassment was threatening plans to open the sect's first church in Florida. "We're days away from losing the whole thing," Santeria priest Ernesto Pichardo said of $1.4 million in pending financing to buy a parcel of land for the Church of Lukumi Babalu-Aye. "And people don't want to drive up here. They're afraid they'll be harassed." The sect had planned to hold its first service Thursday in the building it is leasing with an option to buy, but it lacks an occupancy permit. Instead, about 75 people attended a Mass in the parking lot. City Councilman Paulino Nunez said residents had called and written to protest the church opening, but he said Pichardo had not been harassed. The main complaint of residents and City Council members in this city, which is 85 percent Cuban, involves sacrifices of animals such as goats and chickens as part of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria. Florida laws on animal slaughter allow religious sacrifices if the animals are killed quickly, Pichardo said. Experts say about 40 percent of south Florida's Latin community dabbles in Santeria, but, because there is no central headquarters, the extent of membership is unknown. Santeria was created when African slaves brought to Cuba merged their native beliefs with the Catholicism of plantation owners. The religion requires offering fruit and animal gifts to appease their gods. Donors have "backed off" on pledges because of controversy that erupted after he announced last month the church would open, Pichardo said. Pichardo said lack of a permit forced Florida Power & Light to turn off the building's electricity Thursday morning. The sect applied for the permit, a process that usually takes a week. But the permit has not been granted because of trouble with an electrical inspection, the city attorney's office said. Pichardo said the building should have passed the inspection and accused the city of stonewalling. The 14-year-old, state-registered church has been worshipping in private homes.

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