NCC Remains "On Call" to Further Help to Reunite Elian with His Father, Grandparents
January 28, 2000, NEW YORK CITY Ė "The National Council of Churches
has not pulled back from its commitment to Elian
Gonzalezís grandmothers and their mission," the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, NCC General Secretary, said today.
"The grandmothersí goal of winning their grandsonís return to his father
is a goal the NCC has shared since the Council got
involved in early December," he said. "Indeed, we become more convinced every day that this little boy should be reunited
immediately with his biological father and closest family members in Cuba."
Dr. Edgar reiterated his satisfaction that the NCC-facilitated U.S.
visit of Elianís grandmothers had achieved two goals Ė offering
them the opportunity to speak firsthand of their love for Elian and helping to arrange their visit with Elian. The grandmothersí
ultimate goal Ė to take Elian back to Cuba with them Ė is yet to be realized, and the NCC remains "on call" to help, he said.
As their governmentís official presence in the United States, the Cuban
Interests Section is assisting the grandmothers with their
itinerary during their remaining days in the United States following their visit with Elian. "This is what any citizen seeking help with
a matter in another country would hope for from their government," Dr. Edgar said.
The NCC continues to provide pastoral presence and support for the grandmothers
in the person of the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown
Campbell, the NCCís immediate past general secretary. She was co-chair with Dr. Edgar of the NCC delegation that hosted the
How the NCC Got Involved in Elianís Case
The National Council of Churches was approached for help in the Elian
Gonzalez matter in early December by the Cuban Council
of Churches Ė with whom it has a multifaceted relationship that began before the Cuban revolution and includes humanitarian aid,
work for normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations and advocacy for greater freedom for Cuban Christians to worship, witness and
Alarmed that the United States was not returning the boy quickly and
automatically to his father and that a fundamentally
humanitarian concern was becoming increasingly politicized, the two Councils proposed that they serve as the intermediaries in the
physical return of Elian to his father. The Cuban government agreed to the plan and U.S. officials quietly expressed interest.
But when several weeks passed without movement -- and when the INS postponed
a late-December hearing in Elianís case until
late January and when members of Congress began to propose a measure to grant U.S. citizenship to Elian -- the Cuban Council
of Churches asked the NCC to visit Elianís father and extended family in Cardenas, Cuba. A central concern was that while
Elianís Miami relatives had many spokespersons and advocates, the immediate family in Cuba had few.
Dr. Campbell and the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, the NCCís Director for Latin
America and the Caribbean, accompanied by an NCC
Communication Department staff member, made the trip Jan. 2-5, met the family and shared their impressions with both U.S. and
Cuban government officials.
As that NCC team was en route back to the United States on Jan. 5, the
INS announced its ruling that Elian should be repatriated,
by Jan. 14, to his father. But further delays prompted the two church councils to support yet another "project" Ė the grandmothersí
visit to the United States. (Because of the fatherís concern for his own physical safety should he make the trip, and his fear of
legal entanglement, the grandmothers Ė among Elianís primary caregivers -- offered to come on the familyís behalf.)
NCCís Pastoral Concern for Elianís Grandmothers, Elian, and Family
Dr. Edgar today said he remains committed to the statement he made on Jan. 8, which reads in part:
"The longer this whole process drags on, the more disconnected this
small child becomes from those who have raised him and who
love him. Using delaying tactics to prevent this child from going home is unseemly and it isn't fair to use him as a pawn in a
"As a former Representative in Congress, I will use the knowledge gained
through 6 terms to discover if a logical and
compassionate solution can be found. This is a time when people of good will should focus on the needs of one little boy rather
than on how he can be useful for some other purpose.
"I'm hopeful that this tragic situation can have a positive effect.
Throughout the generations, children often have pointed the way to
a new way of looking at things. The Bible says that "a little child shall lead them." Elian Gonzalez could be the catalyst for a
changed relationship between the peoples of Cuba and the U.S. His safe return should mark a commitment to finding ways to be
more caring and generous with each other."
Accordingly, the National Council of Churches shares the grandmothersí
anguish and concern about legislative efforts in Congress
that serve to further delay Elianís return to his father. Elianís paternal grandmother, Mariela Quintana, on Jan. 21 said, "Nobody
outside has the right to make him (Elian) an American citizen. He was born in Cuba, lives in Cuba, heís a Cuban. No one, even
Congress or the President, can change his status."
Christians in both Cuba and the United States Ė along with leaders in
both countriesí governments -- have expressed their
appreciation for the efforts of the two ecumenical councils for reconciliation in a situation that has divided a family; kept Elian, a
little boy who has just lost his mother, from grieving and healing properly in the bosom of his immediate family, and exacerbated
tensions between the U.S. and Cuba.
"Ultimately," Dr. Edgar commented, "it is the normalization of relations
between the United States and Cuba that will make
unnecessary the perilous crossing by boat that cost the lives of Elianís mother and 10 others, and that puts extraordinary economic
pressure on ordinary Cubans."
Dr. Campbell, who first met Elianís grandmothers on Jan. 3, has been
in close contact with them ever since. She has been
alongside Mrs. Quintana and Raquel Rodriguez, Elianís maternal grandmother, virtually every step along the way since she and
the others from the NCC flew to Havana Jan. 20 to pick the grandmothers up for the U.S. visit.
She, along with Dr. Edgar and the Rev. Bolioli, were present for the
grandmothersí meeting with U.S. Attorney General Janet
Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22. Along with NCC Communication Director Randy
Naylor, and the Very Rev. Oden Marechal, President of the Cuban Council of Churches, those three were part of the long
afternoon of negotiations (Monday, Jan. 24) at the Tamiami Airport Ė negotiations by phone with the Miami relatives and INS
officials that failed to win the Miami relativesí agreement with the grandmothersí request that they be able to visit Elian at a
"The Cuban Interests Sectionís vice consul waited outside the room until
those negotiations were completed," Dr. Campbell noted.
"By the time he was admitted, the grandmothers already had decided to go to Washington, D.C., to press their case with members
of Congress Ė just as it was the grandmothers who had insisted on coming to the United States in the first place."
Dr. Campbell described the grandmothersís concern to be sure to say
and do the right things for Elianís sake in their visit with
him. She urged empathy for the grandmothersí anxiety as they looked forward to the long-awaited visit in the context of a
constant barrage of media, helicopter rides, shouting crowds and heavy police presence. She praised the grandmothersí strength,
courage and articulate expression of their love for Elian and their desire to take him home with them.
Furthermore, Dr. Campbell, a devoted mother and grandmother herself,
was the only person from the NCC to go with the
grandmothers Wednesday afternoon into the house where they met with Elian. She said the grandmothers told her afterward that
it felt like visiting a loved one in a hospital or prison Ė all of a sudden, it seems, "timeís up" and you have to leave.
Editorís Note Ė A Word in Response to Some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Following the grandmothersí visit with Elian, Sister Jeanne expressed
the opinion that Elian should remain with
his Miami relatives. What is the NCCís view on her statement?
We are very appreciative of the extraordinary efforts that Sr. Jeanne
undertook in offering her home as a safe, comfortable,
inviting and neutral environment in which the grandmothers could spend a precious two hours of supervised visitation with their
grandson Elian. She was a kind and gracious host. We were surprised when she chose to step out of her assigned role of
neutrality. We would not have wanted her to publicly support our cause and assumed that she would not support the other side in
this question. As an academic and head of a university we thought that her reflections would be based on research and not
anecdotal information. It had been our hope that the kindness and generosity offered prior to and during the visit would have given
her a helpful and significant role in the ongoing resolution of this issue. We regret that Sr. Jeanne, in choosing to state her opinion
after exercising the role of neutral host so admirably, has in her action further fueled the fire of controversy and eliminated herself
as a neutral facilitator in any future discussions on this matter.
2. Who paid the grandmothersí travel expenses?
During the NCC-hosted part of the grandmothersí visit, all but one flight
was paid for by private donations. The Jan. 22 roundtrip
flight (New York-Washington-New York) was paid for by the NCC at a cost comparable to commercial air tickets ($3,100 for
seven passengers). The grandmothers stayed in a private residence in New York City, as did the Rev. Oden Marichal, President
of the Cuban Council of Churches, who accompanies them. The Cuban Interests Section took on responsibilities for the
grandmothersí travel costs beginning with their return on Jan. 26 from Miami to Washington, D.C.
3. The NCCís work to facilitate the reunification of Elian Gonzalez
with his father and grandparents in Cuba has
received much publicity. How is the Council assisting other families who wish to be reunified?
The Council, its member communions and their congregations help to resettle
thousands of uprooted people in U.S. communities
every year. For example, in 1999, we assisted more than 6,700 newcomers representing more than 30 nationalities. In general,
about 80 percent of these cases are ones in which families are reunified. We are concerned for all families everywhere who are
separated by conflicts between governments. We pray for them and work for their reunification in many ways.
In recent years, our U.S. resettlement caseload has included approximately
2,000 Cubans annually. We are authorized to assist
those Cubans who come to us through the U.S. Department of State Resettlement Program or the Department of Justice
Cuban/Haitian Program. Decisions about who will be accepted for resettlement in the United States are made by the U.S.
government, not by the NCC. Decisions about who will receive exit permits from Cuba are made by the Cuban government, not
the NCC. Working within legitimate U.S. government programs, the Council makes great efforts to assist Cuban refugees and has
done so for decades. No doubt there are people in the Cuban American community who oppose our stand on the Elian Gonzalez
case who were themselves assisted by the Council.
While we must abide by the decisions of government in our resettlement
work, we are advocates for a more humane U.S.
immigration policy. As a U.S-based organization, we participate in legislative discussions and public forums to carry the message
of welcome and refugee protection to Congress and others.
Further, as a faith-based organization with global concerns, we cherish
our relationships with Christian councils and other church
bodies in more than 80 countries around the world, including Cuba. Because our unity in Christ is a tie that transcends geo-political
boundaries, we and our church partners often find that we can build on church-to-church contacts even when our respective
governments have differences. We pray that our work on the Elian Gonzalez case, which we undertook at the encouragement of
the Cuban Council of Churches, might help to build such a bridge of good will. For many years we have been working for
normalization of relationships between the U.S. and Cuba, which among other things, would ease the plight of the many Cuban
families who are now separated.