YOU’RE HA­VANA LAUGH

Home Of­fice halts Cuban church visit

Rutherglen Reformer - - Front Page - Jonathan Ged­des

Church par­ish­ioners have been left stunned after their suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship with a Cuban con­gre­ga­tion was abruptly halted – by the Home Of­fice.

And after the Re­former con­tacted Govern­ment of­fi­cials they per­formed a dra­matic U-turn and ap­proved the visas – but un­for­tu­nately it was too late for the Cubans to make the trip.

Plans for mem­bers of Luyanó Pres­by­te­rian

Church to visit the area were jeop­ar­dised after of­fi­cials re­fused the Cuban vis­i­tors visas – de­spite the wellestab­lished project be­ing in its third year.

The “hos­tile” move was slammed by the Church of Scot­land who said the “shame­ful” de­ci­sion had caused “con­sid­er­able sad­ness and pain”.

The Home Of­fice then told the Re­former yes­ter­day that visas had now been ap­proved.

When we con­tacted Castlemilk Parish Church with the news, it was the first they had heard of the re­vised de­ci­sion – and they said it was un­likely the Cuban group could travel over un­til next year.

Rev­erend Sarah Brown, of the Castlemilk church, told the Re­former: “We are re­ally dis­ap­pointed be­cause our host fam­i­lies were look­ing for­ward to wel­com­ing them.

“This re­la­tion­ship mat­ters a lot to both of our churches. We have had two vis­its from our Cuban friends and [on both oc­ca­sions] all but one per­son – who ap­plied sep­a­rately from the first group — were given visas.

“The Scot­tish Govern­ment hosted the group, which also vis­ited Glas­gow City Cham­bers.

“Ev­ery­one came and had a good time and then went back.

“Un­for­tu­nately it is too late (grant­ing the visas). I hope this means they will be able to visit us next year, but we have no way to know if the visas will be granted next time they ap­ply.”

Sarah said that the rea­son given for the visa re­fusal was that “there wasn’t enough ev­i­dence of funds in Scot­land or in Cuba to show they were able to sup­port them­selves”.

The ini­tia­tive was set up as part of To­gether For Change – which links the Church’s Pri­or­ity Area con­gre­ga­tions in 64 of Scot­land’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties with sim­i­lar com­mu­ni­ties across the world.

Two groups from Castlemilk have pre­vi­ously vis­ited Ha­vana as part of the pro­gramme, where they slept in a church and were hosted by Cuban fam­i­lies in their homes.

Rev Brown praised the re­la­tion­ships that have been de­vel­oped as a re­sult of the project.

She said: “We vis­ited projects there and saw how church groups are tack­ling poverty in Cuba.

“Both churches run crafts groups and the Cubans were im­pressed by our wood­work­ing work­shop. The re­la­tion­ships that have de­vel­oped have been re­ally lovely to watch.”

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, con­vener of the Church of Scot­land’s Church and So­ci­ety coun­cil, warned that the is­sue is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon.

He said:“This is shame­ful but sadly re­flects an in­creas­ingly com­mon pat­tern of be­hav­iour.

“This is not the first time, sadly, that mem­bers of the world church have been re­fused the right to visit Scot­land and it is be­com­ing more and more com­mon.

“The Church is a global move­ment of peo­ple from across the world who seek first and fore­most to fol­low Je­sus. When the UK Govern­ment re­fuses mem­bers of that world­wide fam­ily the right to visit us, and to give us the op­por­tu­nity to learn from them, it causes us con­sid­er­able sad­ness and pain.

“The Visa ap­proval from the Home Of­fice, com­ing as it did after the event to which these fel­low Chris­tians were in­vited, does lit­tle to re­as­sure us that the there is any recog­ni­tion on the part of the Home Of­fice of the world­wide move­ment that is the Chris­tian Church. Peo­ple from all across the world have been com­ing to­gether for cen­turies to share their ex­pe­ri­ences of faith. How­ever, the hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment pro­moted by the govern­ment is serv­ing to un­der­mine this long stand­ing tra­di­tion and we call on the govern­ment to re­view its de­ci­sion mak­ing pro­cesses in such cases.”

A Home Of­fice spokesper­son said:“The ap­pli­ca­tions have been re­viewed and visas have been is­sued.”

The story came just months after lead­ing lawyers ac­cused the Home Of­fice of us­ing “friv­o­lous” rea­sons to deny vis­i­tors from Cuba, and other coun­tries, visas to the UK.

Be­fore Cuban vis­i­tors have en­joyed two pre­vi­ous trips to Scot­land

All smiles Pre­vi­ous vis­its by Cuban na­tion­als have gone with­out a hitch

Transat­lantic ties Catlemilk par­ish­ioners vis­ited Cuba this year

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