WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department asked Pope Benedict XVI to push for the release of Alan Gross from a Cuban jail during his visit to the island nation.
The request for the pope to discuss the Gross case with Cuban officials while he was in Cuba this week went directly to the Vatican and through the papal nuncio in Washington, according to The Associated Press.
"We obviously are hopeful that the pope will continue to be strong on all of the human rights issues in Cuba, religious freedom, and it would be a very, very good thing if the Cuban government were to take this opportunity to release Alan Gross," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday, the AP reported.
Gross, 62, is an American aid worker serving 15 years in prison for what the Cuban government deems “crimes against the state.” He was distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet during his time in Cuba; he was arrested in December 2009.
The Gross family had appealed to the pope for help earlier this month, as reported by JTA.
"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,” Peter Kahn, Gross’ American lawyer, told JTA on March 7.