WASHINGTON (JTA) — The family of Alan Gross is appealing to Pope Benedict XVI to plea for Gross’ release when he visits Cuba.
"We believe this is a special opportunity," Peter Kahn, Gross’ American lawyer, told JTA this week. "Given the significance of the pope’s visit to Cuba and where we are in this process, it would be very helpful if the pope raised Alan’s case in his discussions with the Cuban government.”
Kahn said the family is appealing to the pope through a number of interlocutors.
Separately, the Jewish Federations of North America has launched a petition at FreeAlanGrossNow.com appealing to the pope to make the case for Gross when Benedict is on the island from March 26 to 28.
Gross, 62 and a Washington-area resident, is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for “crimes against the state” for distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet. He was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who chairs the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, a group that advocates for religious freedom, led an interfaith delegation to Cuba this week to appeal for Gross’ release.
Cuban authorities allowed Schneier to meet with Gross and prepare him for the Purim holiday. Schneier presented Gross with a tallit, tefillin, the Book of Esther and hamantaschen.
“I found a man of faith, concerned about his family, hopeful and reassured that he has not been abandoned," Schneier said in a statement.
Since his incarceration, Gross has been in poor health. Additionally, his mother is suffering from inoperable cancer and a daughter has been treated for breast cancer.