The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is part of a delegation of faith leaders currently in Cuba for visits with church representatives, Cuban government officials, and others.
“It’s critical that we as faith leaders bring attention to justice and humanitarian issues,” Parsons said. “Our call is to advocate for those who are hindered from speaking for themselves and to change policies that do harm.”
The 221st General Assembly (2014) approved a recommendation that included petitioning the president of the United States, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to remove all of the restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba. The GA also voted to petition President Obama and the Department of State to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism as soon as possible.
The delegation now in Cuba is being led by Church World Service (CWS) President and CEO the Reverend John L. McCullough. CWS has long urged the U.S. government to lift the decades-old embargo on Cuba and to normalize relations with the island nation. Last year McCullough and other U.S. faith leaders praised President Obama for a 2011 directive that lifted restrictions for religious and academic travel to Cuba, in addition to unrestricted travel by Cuban Americans.
“We are a humanitarian and relief organization and while CWS is taking a lead in what actually is a broad interfaith advocacy effort around normalizing relations, we lead with our faith,” McCullough said. “It is about relating to people on the strength of our faith, our values and the things that we hold to be true. Policies that relegate people to conditions of hunger and poverty are wrong.”
The faith delegation also is urging the release of Alan Gross, the former U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for nearly five years.