WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Jewish Federations of North America is urging Pope Benedict XVI to seek the release of Alan Gross during the pope’s upcoming visit to Cuba.

The group is circulating a nationwide online petition calling for the pope to seek Gross’ release as part of a nationwide appeal by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

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 2009 as he was leaving Cuba. Since his incarceration, Gross has been in poor health and is suffering from several health ailments.

JFNA Executive Committee Chair Michael Gelman said that JFNA continues to seek Gross’ release “on humanitarian grounds.”

“We stand in solidarity with the North American Jewish community in our hope that Alan can soon be reunited with his family after two long years of imprisonment,” Gelman said in a statement.

The JCRC of Greater Washington has taken on a key role in calling for the release of Gross.

“The Gross family continues to suffer greatly — physically, economically, emotionally and spiritually — and we must do everything we can to bring this to an end,” Ron Halber, executive director of the JCRC of Greater Washington, said in a statement. “Please help us fulfill the primary Jewish value of ‘pidyon shivuim,’ redemption of the captive.”