- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

The Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez, carrying an Easter basket for the young boy, were turned away yesterday for the second time from Andrews Air Force Base, where the 6-year-old remained in seclusion with his father.

The relatives' next stop: church.

After being rebuffed for the second time, the family seated themselves in a middle pew at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the District of Columbia.

There, they hung their heads, closed their eyes and prayed. They also wept and hugged each other. Before leaving, they lit a candle for Elian, whom they haven't seen since he was taken from their Miami home early Saturday morning.

The family vowed to remain in the area until they see Elian, who spent Easter with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at Andrews Air Force Base, an impregnable fortress the family could not breach.

Marisleysis Gonzalez, her father, Lazaro, their attorneys and the fisherman who rescued Elian from the waters off the Florida coast last November, approached the main gate at noon and asked the guards if they could see Elian and give him a bag filled with candy, a toy bunny and a pink Easter egg.

"Let me see this boy," Miss Gonzalez demanded. "I know this boy needs to see me, too."

But after several minutes of pleading with the guards, the family left, their demands unmet.

"We asked to see the boy, and the guards said no," said Kirk Menendez, a family attorney. "We asked if they could deliver the basket to Elian, and they said no."

No demonstrators or supporters were present near the air base in Prince George's County, Md., when the family arrived there yesterday afternoon. A few local residents and tourists, however, stopped by during the day to catch a glimpse of the family or the reporters and photographers that have been cordoned off across Allentown Road from the military base.

Most of them were not shy to voice their opinions on whether the family should see Elian.

"I think Elian should have some time to be alone with his father," said Tom Halvorsen, a tourist from Norway. "Now is not a good time for the family to see the boy. It would only add stress. He should be alone with his father, whom he hasn't seen for months."

From the base, the family traveled 15 miles in a two-car caravan to the shrine in Northeast, where they celebrated Easter Mass with hundreds of others who gathered to mark the religious holiday.

Surrounded by photographers, cameramen and reporters, the visibly tired family entered the church 20 minutes after the 2:30 p.m. Mass was scheduled to begin and quietly seated themselves in a wooden pew halfway from the altar while the Rev. James Moroney was giving a homily.

"Each of us has suffered rejection," Father Moroney told the crowd of 300. "But remember the light. It is the light of God that will lead you through life."

Miss Gonzalez quietly began to sob as she listened to Father Moroney's words. Elian's great-uncle Delfin Gonzalez hung his head and wiped away tears. Lazaro Gonzalez closed his eyes. Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman, faced the altar, at one point turning his head to look at reporters seated in the pew behind the family.

During the Sign of Peace, the relatives kissed and embraced one another before shaking hands with four reporters sitting behind them.

After taking Communion, the family knelt and prayed for several minutes. Before leaving the shrine, they stopped by Our Lady of Guadeloupe chapel inside the church, knelt down and prayed. They then lit a candle for Elian, as dozens of churchgoers gathered around to express their support for the family.

"I would like to see both families reunite," said Florence Blanco of the District as she stood at the chapel's entrance watching the family pray.

"I believe the boy and the father should stay in the United States," she said.

"We want justice and equality for the family," said Mary Clement, an international evangelist. "Elian should be with his father and his family."

As the family walked out of the shrine, Mr. Menendez said the relatives attended the Mass to pray for Elian.

"They have not lost their faith," he said. "They will continue on. Today was a moment of reflection, a moment of prayer for Elian."

Armando Guiterrez, a family spokesman, told The Washington Times yesterday the family is holding up "as best they can" after they were turned away twice from the military base.

"They'll be back," Mr. Guiterrez said. "All they want is a family reunification, and they're being rejected. It's all one-sided."

Mr. Guiterrez said the family would rest for the remainder of the day.

Earlier yesterday, Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, and the Miami relatives held an emotional 90-minute news conference on Capitol Hill during which the family demanded to see Elian and brandished a photograph showing an armed Immigration and Naturalization Service officer reaching for the crying boy during the pre-dawn raid in Miami.

A tearful Miss Gonzalez demanded access to the child, saying she acted as his surrogate mother during the past five months he lived at their Little Havana home.

"I lived with the boy, and I know he couldn't live without me," she said. "If Elian had wanted to be with his father, I would have taken him to his father… . I have the right to see this child."

Mr. Smith, who flew from Miami with the family to Washington on Saturday, called the federal government's action "an armed assault on an innocent family."

"[Elian] was pulled and dragged away from his home at gunpoint," Mr. Smith said. "After that attack this family was left with no communication. They were left in Miami in the lurch."

• Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

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