Catholic groups send medical supplies to Cuba


Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Medical Mission Board in New York announced in Baltimore yesterday a shipment of $2.5 million worth of medical supplies to Cuba.

The insulin, antibiotics, surgical supplies and drugs for the treatment of heart disease flown to Havana Tuesday on a chartered plane from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., represents "a significant expansion of our Cuban aid effort," a Catholic Relief Services spokesman said.

The shipment is the second involvement this month by Maryland's religious community in aid to Cuba.

Earlier, three volunteer drivers from Maryland -- two from Baltimore and one from Frederick -- participated in a caravan of 68 vehicles carrying about $3 million worth of supplies that crossed the U.S.-Mexican border March 9.

Supported by a coalition that included Baltimore's Central America Solidarity Committee, the Marylanders transported $252,300 worth of medical supplies and bicycles to Cuban churches.

They were part of the third "Friendshipment" effort organized nationally by the largely Protestant Pastors for Peace group as an ecumenical Christian response to Cuba's shortages.

A target of some of the participating churches is U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba, with its roots in the Cold War. The shipment through Mexico was "a demonstration of solidarity and challenges the U.S. embargo," said John Gaige of Baltimore, one of the Pastors for Peace caravan drivers.

Catholic Relief Services Director Kenneth F. Hackett said in Baltimore yesterday, "Make no mistake about it, there is real suffering in Cuba due to critical shortages of medicines needed to treat major illnesses.

"As Catholic agencies, our mandate is to help people in need, no matter who they are or where they are. We are doing just that in Cuba."

The Rev. Edward J. McMahon, a Jesuit priest who directs the medical mission group in New York, said the latest shipment had symbolic value, too.

"As representatives of the Catholic community in the United States, we cannot allow the political differences between the governments of the United States and Cuba to keep us from helping people in need," Father McMahon said.

"In addition to serving a humanitarian need, we expect that efforts like ours can serve a broader purpose of promoting dialogue aimed at remedying the economic and social troubles Cuba is facing."

The same Catholic partnership flew medical supplies valued at $574,000 to Cuba in August.

In June, a Pastors for Peace shipment was delayed when U.S. Customs agents impounded a school bus in Laredo, Texas. Fourteen caravan members conducted a 23-day hunger strike before they were allowed to enter Mexico.

Catholic Relief Services said it obtained all necessary permits from the U.S. and Cuban governments in advance of the air shipment announced yesterday. The supplies are being distributed to hospitals, clinics and rural health centers throughout Cuba, the Catholic relief agency said.

Jesus' words

"Grace Words from the Cross" will be the subject of services Sunday morning at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1100 Philadelphia Road in Joppa.

The public is invited to participate in the Palm Sunday worship beginning at 8:15 a.m., 9:35 a.m. and 11 a.m. Information: 679-4000.

On growing older

"The Ageless Spirit," a series of informal discussions of aging in the context of the teachings of Judaism, will begin April 7 and continue each Thursday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. through May 12 at the Jewish Community Center, 5700 Park Heights Ave.

The fee is $10. To register, call Leslie Pomerantz at 542-4900.

Spiritual growth

The Rev. John Guest, a native of England who founded the Coalition for Christian Outreach, and the Rev. Michael Curry, rector of St. James Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square in West Baltimore, will preach April 9 at Maryland's 24th Episcopal Prayer Conference.

Sponsored jointly by the Episcopal dioceses of Maryland, Washington (D.C.) and Easton, the all-day event is scheduled at Archbishop Spaulding High School, 8088 New Cut Road in Severn.

"A New Beginning, A New Vision" is the theme. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. The fee is $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Information: 467-1399.

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