Washington -- As a delegation from the Cuban Council of Churches prepares to meet with administration officials and members of Congress during a Feb. 26-27 visit to Washington, D.C., CWS President and CEO the Rev. John McCullough is calling the U.S. faith community to action around improved relations with Cuba.
“This is a particularly important time for congregational activism; for people to tune in to this issue and to make their voices heard to members of Congress. My experience has been that there are easily a majority of members of Congress who believe that it is time to move forward and they need to hear from their constituents that this is something that is important to them,” McCullough said.
Hoping to capitalize on a perceived softening of official attitudes towards improving relations with Cuba, McCullough and members of the Cuban delegation will renew their appeal to the U.S. government to take the necessary steps to end the decades old U.S. embargo on Cuba, with its ban on travel to and trade with the island nation.
Last year, McCullough joined other U.S. faith leaders in praising President Obama for a 2011 directive that lifted restrictions for religious and academic travel to Cuba, and allowed licensed people-to-people cultural travel. That move, faith leaders said, strengthened relationships with church partners in Cuba and paralleled what they described as a "time of robust growth for Cuban churches, which has occurred alongside movement within Cuba to increase economic prosperity and political rights."
This week’s trip is motivated by a desire by the Cuban church leaders “to continue trying to serve as a bridge and to explore paths for normalizing relations between our two governments,” said delegation member Dr. Reinerio Arce, moderator of the Presbyterian Churches in Cuba and president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas. “Our peoples have never felt enmity and I believe that it is our duty as Christians to do all that is possible to find ways in which our two neighboring peoples can live as friends.”
Describing the delegation members as “ambassadors of reconciliation and peace,” Dr. Arce pointed out that, “The churches of the U.S. and Cuba, over all these years of disagreement between our two governments, have been an important bridge in the relationship between our two peoples.”
Another member of the delegation, Bishop Griselda Delgado, the Episcopal Bishop of Cuba, emphasized the urgency of “responsible, respectful” dialogue between Cuba and the United States if reconciliation is to be achieved.
“As members of the Cuban church, representing our communities in dialogue and relationship with our sister churches in the U.S., we believe it is important to keep making the people of North America aware of the reality of the people of Cuba, who live unjustly under economic blockade by the United States,” Griselda said.
While the issue itself is complicated, Rev. McCullough believes that giving lawmakers an incentive to act by calling and urging them to work toward normalizing relations with Cuba is a simple thing for people of faith to do. “It is both easy and imperative for people to speak out about it, and the visit of the Cuban church delegation provides an excellent opportunity to again raise concern about this issue to our elected officials on Capitol Hill,” McCullough said.
The Cuban delegation will be led by the Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, Presbyterian minister and president of the Cuban Council of Churches. In addition to Dr. Arce and Bishop Delgado, members include the Rev. Maria Yi, Society of Friends (the Quakers), and head of the Cuban chapter of the Latin American Council of Churches, the Rev. Raul Suarez, Baptist minister and founder and director of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana; and the Rev. Rhode Gonzalez, a pastor in the Christian Pentecostal church and past president of the Cuban Council of Churches.
The delegation is sponsored by Church World Service, the Presbyterian Church USA, the American Baptist Churches, the American Friends Service Committee, the Episcopal Church, and Global Ministries of the Christian Churches (Disciples) and United Church of Christ.