A meeting of US church leaders with leaders of the Council of Churches of Cuba concluded in Havana on Dec. 2 with a joint declaration celebrating signs of greater unity between US and Cuban churches. Sixteen representatives of National Council of Churches (NCC) member communions including the Church of the Brethren were in Cuba from Nov. 28-Dec. 2 meeting with Cuban church and political leaders, including President Raúl Castro.
Mission and Ministry Board member Becky Ball-Miller was the Church of the Brethren member on the delegation to Cuba (read her reflections on the trip in the feature article below).
The delegation, which Cuban church leaders said was the highest ranking US church group to visit the island in their memory, was led by Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. The joint statement by the churches declared that normalization of relations between the US and Cuba would be in the best interest of both nations, and the leaders called for the resolution of three humanitarian issues “which cause unjustifiable human misunderstanding and suffering.”
Foremost among the issues is the 53-year-old US economic embargo of Cuba that dates back to the administration of President John F. Kennedy. The embargo is “the major obstacle to the resolution of differences, to economic interaction, and to fuller engagement of our peoples and churches,” the US and Cuban church leaders said.
Also cited as obstacles to normalization of relations is the imprisonment in the US of the “Cuban Five,” whose sentences in 1998 “have been deemed unjust by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the United Nations; and the two-year incarceration in Cuba of U.S. citizen Alan Gross.
“Together, we affirm the importance of living in hope, but also to demonstrate the credibility of our hope by acting to help make it so,” the church leaders said. “We, therefore, commit ourselves to promote, even more vigorously, the relationship between our churches and church and ecumenical councils, and to advocate, even more assertively, for the normalization of relations between our countries. Such commitment, we confess, is a response to the One who has bound us to one another (e.g., Ephesians 4:6) and sent us forth to be ambassadors of God’s reconciling love.”
Kinnamon and other members of the delegation met with the wives of the “Cuban Five” and with Alan Gross to publicize their support for their release. Gross’ name came up during a meeting Dec. 1 between Kinnamon and Cuban President Raúl Castro. Kinnamon said Castro expressed concern about Gross’ declining health, but did not comment on the possibility of his release.
Kinnamon also preached Nov. 27 at the National Episcopal Cathedral, highlighting a passage from the Apostle Paul: “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians); and laying out challenges faced by the churches of the United States and Cuba.
In addition to Kinnamon and his wife, Mardine Davis, the 18-member US delegation included John McCullough, executive director and CEO of Church World Service, and top leaders of a number of Christian denominations including the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church, among several others.
— This article is excerpted from a release by Philip E. Jenks of the National Council of Churches communications staff. The full text of the joint declaration can be read at http://www.ncccusa.org/pdfs/cubajointstatement.pdf .