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U.S., Cuban Ecumenical Councils To Meet In Cuba September 2-7 

By invitation of the Cuban Council of Churches, a (U.S.) National Council of Churches official delegation, headed by the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary, will visit Cuba Sept. 2-7.   

Partners for more than 40 years, the two ecumenical councils meet in a rapidly evolving context – “post-Elian,” as U.S.-Cuban national relations begin to thaw; as Cuba’s churches grow rapidly in membership, witness, service and respect in their society, and as both the NCC and Cuban Council of Churches reach out in new ways to Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and evangelicals.    

Also, both Councils have new leaders – the NCC, Dr. Edgar since Jan. 1, and the CCC (in Spanish, CIC – Consejo de Iglesias de Cuba), the Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce, President since March 31.  They met briefly in New York in April, but this will be their first extensive time together, and their first meeting in Cuba.   

Visit-related stories are expected to include:

        A visit to Cardenas to distribute 1,500 Church World Service school kits – assembled in U.S. congregations – to Elian Gonzalez’s classmates and other Cardenas school children.  The delegation also will meet with Elian’s father and grandmothers and visit the Cardenas Ecumenical Center.  This “return visit” will celebrate the success of the U.S. and Cuban ecumenical councils’ high-profile collaboration to lay the groundwork for Elian’s return to his father.  The NCC’s first visit to Cardenas was January 3.

        The U.S. and Cuban ecumenical councils eight years ago pioneered an aid program that has channeled more than $1 million in food, medicine and medical equipment to help Cubans in need, especially children and elderly.  During the NCC delegation visit, the two councils will work intensively to further their collaboration.  Envisioned are development projects, people-to-people exchanges and a call to their two governments to have the courage to negotiate their differences. 

        Taking U.S.-Cuban relations to a new level also will be on the agenda of NCC delegation meetings with officials of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and with Cuban government leaders.

        For the first time ever, an NCC delegation will meet with Msgr. Jaime Ortega, Roman Catholic Cardinal of Cuba.  The meeting follows on Cuban Council of Churches President the Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce’s meeting with Cardinal Ortega in July to explore CCC-Roman Catholic dialogue. 

        NCC delegation members will participate and preach in various churches, including a Pentecostal church (Sept. 3) and have several meetings with Cuban church leaders.

        A visit to the Matanzas Theological Seminary, where the Rev. Dr. Ophelia Ortega is president.  Under Dr. Ortega’s leadership these past two years, this ecumenical Protestant seminary has experienced a renaissance.  Its rolls packed full, the seminary is active in the community – helping people with emotional problems in a local hospital, for example, and offering a Christmas concert in … the Karl Marx Theatre.

        Exposure to Cuban medical and educational models with an eye to possibilities for replication by ecumenical organizations across Latin America and elsewhere.  On the schedule: a visit to a school specializing in care for persons with Downs Syndrome, to the Emergency Clinic in Old Havana (to which CWS has supplied medicine and medical equipment) and to the Latin American School of Medicine.  

NCC delegation members are: 

        The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary, New York; a United Methodist; formerly President of the Claremont School of Theology (1990-99) and U.S. Representative from the Seventh Congressional District of Pennsylvania (1974-87).

        Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, West Sacramento, Calif.; Ecumenical Officer for the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops (effective Sept. 1); formerly bishop of the Seattle, Wash., and San Francisco, Calif., areas.  Formerly NCC President 1996-7 and member, World Council of Churches’ Central, Executive and Finance committees. 

        Mr. Jay Rodriguez, President, Hafif Family Foundation, Claremont, Calif., since 1989, after 20 years with NBC-TV, from which he retired as V.P. - Corporate Information.  He is a member of Glendale Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Glendale, Calif. 

        The Rev. Kermit DeGraffenreidt, Secretary-Treasurer of the Department of Overseas Mission of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, New York.

        The Rev. Dr. Bernard R. Wilson, Executive Minister of The Riverside Church, New York, an interdenominational, interracial and international congregation with more than 2,500 members.  Former chaplain in the U.S. Navy.  Dr. Wilson is an ordained Church of God in Christ minister. 

        Mr. Richard Augsburger, Director of the Emergency Response and Material Resources Office of Church World Service, New York.  Responsible for coordinating humanitarian aid shipments to Cuba.  Mr. Augsburger is a Mennonite. 

        The Rev. Oscar Bolioli, Advisor to the Executive Director of Church World Service, New York.  President of the Methodist Church in Uruguay from 1973-79.

        Dr. Leroy R. Perry, Jr., of the International Sportsmedicine Institute, Los Angeles, is a five-time official Olympics doctor who has worked with Cuban athletes since 1979 and was an official doctor during the Pan American Games in Cuba.  Dr. Perry is Roman Catholic.   

The delegation will be accompanied by Carol Fouke, NCC media liaison, and Luis Chirino, Cuban Council of Churches media liaison.

-end-

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