U.S. Bishops urge Cuba and U.S. Leaders to Improve Relations
They said the United States should move more boldly to patch up U.S.-Cuban relations or the opportunity for change that U.S. President Barack Obama has endorsed may be lost.
"There's about 50 years of lack of confidence on both sides," said Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Florida.
"That's a lot of history to overcome, but for the good of people who are separated, and suffering because of that separation, we would hope that both sides listen to their better angels," he said at a press conference in Havana.
Wenski was part of a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops visiting Cuba this week to meet with Cuban and church officials and to inspect reconstruction work on church facilities damaged by three hurricanes last year.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said the group met with officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on Monday and would meet on Tuesday with Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon.
The church leaders said they expressed concern to the Interests Section, which stands in for an embassy because the two countries have no diplomatic relations, that the Obama administration was not moving quickly enough to change U.S. policy toward the communist-led island.
"They seem to be taking a position where they will move piece by piece, which is a little concerning because there's so much work to do. One might not get very far," said delegation member Father Andrew Small.
"We have called for bold gestures," he said, noting that the bishops' conference has long endorsed ending the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and supports proposals to end a ban on American travel to the island.
"There have been opportunities lost," said Wenski, referring to past U.S. administrations.
U.S.-Cuba enmity dates back to the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and transformed the island into a communist state just 90 miles from Florida.
Obama has said he wants to "recast" U.S.-Cuban relations and has taken small steps in that direction by allowing Cuban Americans to freely travel and send money to Cuba. But he has said further changes will depend on Cuba releasing political prisoners and making progress on human rights.
Cuba has said it is willing to discuss all issues, but its leaders, including Alarcon, have insisted Cuba will make no concessions to the United States because it is not the country imposing an embargo.
Relations between the church and Cuban government were tense after the revolution but have improved in the past decade, especially after a 1998 visit by Pope John Paul II, said O'Malley. "Now we see that the church has more space. We would like for it to widen more," he said.