Following Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Cuba, U.S. Catholic bishops are pushing the State Department to lift the 50-year Cuban embargo in order to improve religious liberty and human rights for the Cuban people.

In a Tuesday (April 17) letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, pressed the Obama administration to pursue “purposeful engagement rather than ineffective isolation” with Havana.

After joining Benedict during his March 26-28 visit, Pates saw firsthand what added support could do for the Cuban people, he wrote in the letter.

Richard Coll, a policy adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said lifting the embargo has been the bishops’ ”long-held policy” for at least the last 20 years, but actually traveling to the country made the issue real for Pates and other prelates.

The embargo should be lifted, Pates wrote, so that “greater support and assistance may be provided to the ordinary citizens” of the country.

The bishop said he saw the relaxation of travel restrictions to Cuba in 2011 as a move in the right direction, but said a complete withdrawal of the restrictions and the lifting of the embargo would help the country “in achieving greater freedom, human rights, and religious liberty.”

“It’s the right thing and the correct thing to do,” Coll said.

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