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

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

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

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

"The courts of our land have done the right thing in saying that Juan 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 a resolution that will enable the boy and his family to be reunited in their own home."

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

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

The council supported the visit of the boys' grandmothers to plead his case in January. An NCC delegation visited the boys' family in Cuba.

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

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