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Cuban Council of Churches to Play Vital Role between the Government and Christians

Feb 14, 2003 01:59 PM EST

The council of churches in Cuba serves as an important go-between in the relationship between Christians and the government, according to a United Methodist ecumenist.

The Rev. Bruce Robbins, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, said that even though the Cuban government is much more open to religious practice these days, "the council plays a critical role of mediation on behalf of the churches."

Robbins was one of a four-person delegation, sponsored by the U.S. National Council of Churches, who met with Cuban counterparts during a Feb. 6-10 visit. Other members were his wife, Carol Braswell Robbins; the Rev. Robert Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and the NCC's chief executive; and the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, a Methodist from Uruguay and the NCC's long-time liaison to Cuba.

The group visited church projects, such as clinics and schools; toured a school of medicine established by the Cuban government; met with relatives of five Cubans convicted of spying who want visitation rights at the U.S federal prison; visited with church members from various denominations and had dinner with the president of Cuba's national assembly.

They also met with the chief of the U.S. Interest Section and asked about the reason for delays in granting visas for Cubans traveling to the United States. Cuban Methodist Bishop Ricardo Pereira, for example, was not able to get a visa in time to join a meeting of Methodist bishops from the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean last November in Puerto Rico. Robbins said they were told the slowdown was due to security concerns following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Robbins had both positive and negative experiences during what was his first trip to Cuba. The Caribbean nation is home to about 10,500 Methodists.

"I find the churches to be growing and vital in ways that were exciting to me," he said. He added that he wished more Cuban Methodists could visit their counterparts in the United States to give witness to their strength of spirit and vitality of worship.

But Robbins deplored the suffering caused by longtime sanctions against Cuba by the United States. "My personal impression is the sanctions are a tragedy," he said. "The fact they've been imposed for so long shows they have not been effective." Global Mission leaders gather in Cyprus

By Albert H. Lee
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