WASHINGTON, June 28 (RNS)--Officials of the National Council of Churches, which long hassupported the return of Elian Gonzalez to his homeland, are glad he hasbeen permitted to fly to Cuba.

"We are delighted that Elian Gonzalez is on his way home at last, inthe company of his loving father," the Rev. Robert W. Edgar, generalsecretary of the New York-based ecumenical agency, said in a statementWednesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court ended a seven-month custody fight over theboy by rejecting appeals by Elian's Miami relatives who wanted him tostay in this country. His father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who has livedwith him in the United States for more than two months, wanted to returnwith him to Cuba.

They departed Wednesday afternoon from Dulles International Airportin the Virginia suburbs outside Washington.

"The courts of our land have done the right thing in saying thatJuan Miguel Gonzalez is the only one entitled to speak for his son,"Edgar said. "We regret that it has taken so long for there to be aresolution that will enable the boy and his family to be reunited intheir own home."

The council became an advocate for the 6-year-old boy at the requestof the Cuban Council of Churches.

He arrived in the United States last November clinging to an innertube off the coast of Florida after his mother and others died in anapparent attempt to immigrate illegally to the United States.

The council supported the visit of the boys' grandmothers to pleadhis case in January.

An NCC delegation visited the boys' family in Cuba.

"We pray that this little child now will have time, in familiarsurroundings, to get on with his life, to come to terms with the loss ofhis mother, and to reconnect with friends and family following thesemany months of forced separation," Edgar said in a statement.