WASHINGTON (RNS) Faith leaders with long-term ties to Cuban organizations are hailing a change in White House policy that reduces limits on religious travel to the island nation.
The White House announced Friday (Jan. 14) that President Obama had directed changes that include permitting religious organizations to sponsor trips through a general license. The administration also will create a general license that permits remittances to religious institutions in Cuba that support religious activities.

“The president believes these actions, combined with the continuation of the embargo, are important steps in reaching the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its citizens,” the statement said.

During a November meeting, officials with the National Council of Churches had asked Obama to address limitations on travel to Cuba by U.S. religious leaders.

“The White House announcement is an important first step toward more just and open relations between the U.S. and Cuba,” said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. “We look forward to the day when the U.S. embargo of Cuba will be lifted completely.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also welcomed the changes as a positive move to help the Cuban people.

“We hope and pray that these needed measures to remove unnecessary restrictions on purposeful travel to Cuba and to offer greater people-to-people assistance to Cubans will be another step toward supporting the people of Cuba in achieving greater freedom, human rights, and religious liberty,” said Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

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