Just one year ago, June 6, 1997, we bishops, representing the United States Catholic Conference's Committee on International Policy and the Board of Catholic Relief Services, wrote to President Clinton urging the resumption of direct flights from the United States to Cuba, especially for the delivery of humanitarian aid. On March 20th of this year, the President finally lifted the ban on direct flights, allowing Catholic Relief Services once again to send shipments of medicines and other humanitarian aid to the Cuban Church's relief and development agency, Cáritas Cubana. We applaud these actions.
We are intensely proud of the close relationship of solidarity and cooperative action that has developed between the Church here and in Cuba. The most concrete expression of this solidarity is the provision of critically needed medicines, medical supplies and equipment and other goods, donated by private individuals and corporations in this country, delivered to Cuba by Catholic Relief Services, and distributed there by Cáritas. Although these efforts can meet only a fraction of the needs experienced by many in Cuba today, the Church in both countries is committed to doing all it can to alleviate suffering and give hope in a time of discouragement.
There are legislative proposals in the U.S. Congress seeking to address the problem of the dire shortage of many things in Cuba. Some call for an end to the U.S. restrictions on the sale of food and medicines, others propose grants of money or matériel by our government to the needy in Cuba, through the instrumentality of non-governmental groups such as the Catholic Church and its agency Cáritas. We welcome these efforts to reach out to our Cuban brothers and sisters in need. The Cuban Bishops' Conference, however, in a statement issued last month, has made clear its firm intention of avoiding any politicization of its humanitarian role in the present crisis and has thus indicated that it will not receive or distribute aid coming from governments. This has been the policy of the Cuban Church in the past and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
The position of the U.S. Catholic Conference and Catholic Relief Services is identical with that of the Bishops of Cuba. We pledge to do all we can to encourage private contributions of medicines and other needed goods to Catholic Relief Services for distribution by Cáritas Cubana to help lessen some of the suffering brought on in recent years. As we stated following the January papal visit, "ending the restrictions on the sale of food and medicines, as legislation currently in both houses of the U.S. Congress calls for, would be, in our view, a noble and needed humanitarian gesture and an expression of wise statesmanship on the part of our elected leaders."
Just a few days ago, on Pentecost Sunday, the Cuban Bishops issued an important pastoral statement, "The Spirit Desires to Breathe in Cuba," recalling the urgent plea issued by the Holy Father during his visit that the world open up to Cuba and Cuba to the world. The bishops observe that "at this time when the world is opening up to our homeland, we reject any economic siege against our country, as well as any attempt to isolate it." The Cuban Bishops call equally for Cuba to open up to the world, for "an internal opening of the Cuban society," requiring that "human rights...be fully respected." We pray that the government of Cuba and the government of the United States will reverse those policies of each that have contributed, in very different ways, to the suffering of the Cuban people.
Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
USCC Committee on International Policy
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola
CRS Board of Directors