From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Board of Church and Society welcomes Elian's father

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 17 Apr 2000 14:16:50

April 17, 2000 News media contact: Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE:  Photographs are available with this report.

By Erik Alsgaard and Gretchen Hakola*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) -- Juan Miguel Gonzalez, currently at the center of a
controversy over when his son Elian will be returned to him, received a warm
welcome at the United Methodist Building on April 14. 

Along with his wife, Nercy, and infant son Hianny, Gonzalez was greeted by
the Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, top staff executive of the United
Methodist Board of Church and Society, the social advocacy arm of the

The purpose of the visit, Fassett said in a prepared statement, was to
encourage Gonzalez "as he has met with disappointments, and to assure him
that contrary to the dominant public media opinion, there is an even greater
voice praying for him and a peaceful, humane conclusion."

The Gonzalez family met with agency staff and members of various faith-based
advocacy groups housed in the building in a second-floor conference room.
About 40 people greeted the family with warm applause. The Rev. Joan Brown
Campbell, former top staff executive of the National Council of Churches of
Christ in the U.S.A., was among the group. Fassett ended the gathering with

Talking to media camped out on the front steps of the building, Fassett
said, "We are responding as people of faith whose history calls us to acts
of justice and mercy. We are part of this morality drama because we believe
that people of faith are called by God to show forth love and compassion to
all people."

Gonzalez is in the United States to be reunited with his 6-year-old son and
to take the boy back home to Cuba. Elian was rescued off the Florida coast
last November, after a boat in which he was traveling with other Cuban
refugees capsized. His mother drowned in the accident. The child has been
staying with relatives in Miami since then, while legal and political
battles have raged over whether he should be returned to his father in Cuba.

The Board of Church and Society has created a Humanitarian Advocacy Fund to
collect voluntary contributions to assist in paying for the father's legal
representation. The fund, authorized by the board's executive committee, was
created following a request received from the Cuban Council of Churches, of
which the Cuban Methodist Church is a member. About 200 donations have been
received to date.

"Out of our long United Methodist history of concern for family values, and
our belief that children are an especially sacred gift from God, we have
been in prayer for Juan Miguel Gonzalez as he seeks to be reunited with his
son. As Christians, we proclaim that faith, love and justice must supercede
political realities," Fassett said.

The United Methodist Church states in its Social Principles: "The family
(is) the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and
sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect and fidelity." (1996 Book
of Discipline, Paragraph 65A)

The day before Gonzalez' visit to the United Methodist Building, the Vatican
announced that it would make its embassy in Washington available for the
hand-over of Elian to his father. The move was made at the request of two
parties, according to the Vatican's statement, reported by Associated Press.
The State Department confirmed that President Clinton had suggested the
embassy, the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, as a site for the
handover. The other party was thought to be Cuban President Fidel Castro,
according to Religion News Service.

# # #

*Alsgaard is assistant general secretary of communications and Hakola is
program director of communications at the United Methodist Board of Church
and Society.


United Methodist News Service
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