The General Secretary of the US National Council of Churches (NCCUSA) has welcomed a White House decision that will lift travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba to make it easier for religious groups in both countries to engage with one another - writes Solange De Santis.
"I was delighted to hear the news," said the Rev Dr Michael Kinnamon. "We had been asking President Obama to take these steps since the beginning of his administration - most notably in a face-to-face meeting with the president and heads of NCC member communions in the White House last November."
Kinnamon participated in a White House conference call on 14 January 2011 during which the changes were announced. Kinnamon said the call for more open relations with Cuba "has been pressed by a united front of our member communions, our sister agency, Church World Service, as well as by our interfaith partners and other persons of good will."
The White House move "is an important first step toward more just and open relations between the US and Cuba," Kinnamon said. "We look forward to the day when the US embargo of Cuba will be lifted completely."
The White House said that the change in policy is intended to "enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society through purposeful travel, including religious, cultural and educational travel." Under the new policy, religious organisations will be allowed to sponsor religious travel to Cuba under a general licence.
In addition, accredited institutions of higher education will be allowed to "sponsor travel to Cuba for course work for academic credit under a general licence; allowing students to participate through academic institutions other than their own; and facilitating instructor support from adjunct and part-time staff."
The order also creates a general licence for US individuals and groups to send money to religious institutions in Cuba in support of religious activities.
All US international airports may now apply to provide services to licensed charters to and from Cuba under the conditions of the order.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]