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Cuban ecumenical leaders affirm ‘signs of a new understanding’ after visit to U.S.

January 18, 2011

HAVANA

Members of a delegation of the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) who recently visited the U.S. affirmed in a press conference upon their return that they perceived a more accepting attitude from that country toward the Caribbean islands and they see this as a hopeful signal that new channels of relationship may be opened between the countries.

The delegation was comprised of the Rev. Marcial Miguel Hernández, president; the Rev. Pablo Oden Marichal, executive secretary; the Rev. Humberto Fuentes, vice-president and representative of the Methodist bishop Ricardo Pereira; Reinerio Arce Valentín, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas; the Rev. Raúl Suárez, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center; the Rev. Ofelia Miriam Ortega, president for Latin America of the World Council of Churches and director of the Ecumenical Gender Institute; the Rev. Griselda Delgado, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Cuba; and the Rev. Rafael Columbie, president of the Christian Pentecostal Church in Cuba.

While in the U.S. the delegation also attended the the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA in New Orleans — the first time the Cuban Council of Churches has formally attended the NCC gathering.

The celebration — which marked the centennial of the Ecumenical Movement in the U.S. and the centennial of the Edinburg Conference on World Mission in 1910 — also included visitors from the Latin American Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.

A CIC press release stated, “The sense of unity around the Christian mission of a diverse church lives and testifies in a world of radical structural changes where the danger of religious confrontations is always present. This danger challenges churches and Christians to find avenues of dialog capable of building constructive inter-faith relations that affirm peace and justice as a possible future for humankind while deconstructing unfruitful levels of confrontations.”

After their participation in the Assembly, the Cuban delegation visited Washington, where they met officers of the Obama administration and members of the U.S. Congress with whom they shared opinions about the relations between the two countries.

“Even if it is possible that a level of hostility against Cuba may arise from the fact that members of the Republican Party are in key positions in the administration,” the delegation reported, “that hostility was not perceived by the delegation.”

Dan Restrepo, director for Latin America of the National Security Council affirmed that “the current administration, different from the previous administration, is committed to not interfere in the internal situation in Cuba. In spite of our differences there is a policy of respect toward Cuba that is the characteristic of the actual administration,” he said.

On another subject, the Cuban delegation also expressed to U.S. officers their pastoral concern for the “Cuban five” who have been imprisoned several years in the U.S. on espionage charges. The Cuban government claims that they were fighting against terrorist organizations that work against Cuba.

U.S. officials mentioned to the delegation the situation of Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Cuba on espionage charges related to his alleged delivery of electronic equipment to the small Jewish community in Cuba.

“We told them that we would give attention to this case,” Marichal said, but acknowledged that no negotiations have taken place yet. “We were repeating the information shared with us by the Jewish Cuban Community, an organization member of the Cuban Council of Churches,” he said.

According to Marichal, the Jewish Cuban Community said, “we never had any type of relation with this gentleman. He did not bring any equipment for the Jewish Cuban Community.”

“They rejected any connection with Alan Gross,” concluded Marichal.

About the new climate of understanding between the two countries, Suarez — who is also a member of the Cuban Parliament — described the conversations with the U.S. officials as “open and honest.”

It is evident, he said, that “the Obama administration’s intention is to continue in a direction that is completely different from the previous administration. Our churches in Cuba and the churches in the U.S. have also taken the initiative to strengthen and increase our relations so we may help to improve the relations between our countries.”

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