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All Cuban churches should receive equal treatment on the part of the state in order to meet the challenges raised by their pastoral ministry.

This concern was voiced by the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, during a meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro on 3 August at the end of an ecumenical delegation's four-day visit to the Cuban island.

The delegation also included WCC president from North America, Dr Bernice Powell-Jackson of the United Church of Christ (USA), and WCC central committee member Bishop Rolf Koppe of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

"Churches, in particular Protestant churches, are growing and because of this growth, they need to build new churches and seminaries and have access to the media in order to tackle the pastoral challenges that arise in their service to the Cuban people," said Kobia.

The WCC has two member churches in Cuba: the Methodist Church and the First Presbyterian Reformed Church. Kobia, who preached in both churches in Havana, was able to confirm and emphasize the important contribution that churches make to Cuban society.

Another concern raised by the Cuban churches and reiterated by Kobia was the negative consequences of the economic embargo imposed on the island by the USA.

"The Cuban blockade is part of a unilateral international policy on the part of the United States that goes far beyond being an economic or political measure," said Kobia. "From a humanitarian and ethical perspective, we demand that the blockade be immediately lifted," he said.

The ecumenical delegation visited a hospital for children with heart problems, a rehabilitation centre for children and young people with mental disabilities, and a university specializing in computer sciences. Kobia underlined the "great vision" reflected in these initiatives as well as the "will to recognize and restore people's dignity."

The delegation met with Rev. Rhode Gonzalez, president of the Cuban Council of Churches, with the Catholic archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, as well as with other leaders from Cuban churches. They also visited the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas.

The WCC general secretary's visit to Caribbean churches will continue in Haiti from 5-7 August.

Additional information about the visit to the Caribbean is available in our July 28 press release:

www2.wcc-coe.org/pressreleasesen.nsf/index/pr-05-42.html

Photos from the visit to the Caribbean are available on the WCC website at:

www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/photo-galleries/travel/caribbean/cubavisit2005.html