WASHINGTON (February 2, 1998) -- Positive steps taken by the Cuban government in anticipation of Pope John Paul II's recent visit there should be met with a re-examination of U.S. policy toward the island nation, according to a statement released today by the U.S. Catholic Conference.
"It is incumbent on us ... to take a fresh look at the issues that continue to divide us," said Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, "and see if it is not time for fresh initiatives to promote the goals of reconciliation among us."
Specifically, Archbishop McCarrick, who chairs the USCC International Policy Committee called on the U.S. government to lift the "onerous and evidently meaningless ban on direct flights to Cuba" and to allow the alleviation of suffering in Cuba by ending restrictions on the sale of food and medicines.
The Cuban government's relaxation of restrictions on religious expression before and during the Pope's January 21-25 visit "fall far short of the measure of a just society repeatedly outlined by the Holy Father," according to Archbishop McCarrick. "But they are steps along a better path and should be acknowledged as such. In our view, therefore, it is clearly time for the United States also to take some practical steps" which could "lead to real improvements in relations between our two countries."
Despite becoming an officially "secular" state in 1992 after three decades of being an "atheist" nation, the Cuban government continued to impose severe restrictions on the work of religious organizations -- and on the practice of religion -- before last year. In preparation for Pope John Paul's visit, however, several concessions were made to allow for door-to-door outreach by Church officials, several outdoor Masses, and previously forbidden religious processions.
"We urge and look forward to further hopeful signs of positive developments within Cuban society that could lead toward to needed rapprochement between our two countries and reconciliation among all our peoples," said Archbishop McCarrick. "We stand with the Cuban people in their just hopes for full civic, political and religious freedom."