MIAMI (CBS4) – The Cuban exile community and many on the island are mourning the loss of one of the most well-known faces and outspoken voices of the Cuban dissident movement.

Oswaldo Payá was an engineer by trade, but advocating for a free and democratic Cuba was his life’s true passion.

Some believe he died because of it.

“His legacy is one of inspiration and I hope that his death will become a source of new beginnings for many others who strive for the same purpose,” Father Juan Sosa said.

Fr. Sosa is a priest at a Catholic Church on Miami Beach. He attended school with Payá in Cuba. Fr. Sosa remembers Payá as a simple man.

“(He was) very dedicated, and always with a desire to make sure that Cuba was free and that it had a democratic process,” Sosa said.

Payá was killed in a car crash in Bayamo, Cuba Sunday.

Fr. Sosa won’t speculated on the circumstances surrounding Payá’s death, but in a recording posted on Payá’s official website, his daughter says someone was trying to hurt them, and ended up killing her father.

“The Castros are such gangsters that if Payá would have made it to the hospital alive, they would have made sure he was killed in the hospital,” former U.S. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart said Monday. “We had some differences of opinion with regard to strategy, but we always recognized that he was a great patriot.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio offered his condolences to Payá’s family. He issued a statement, which said, in part, “I also join in solidarity with all those courageous Cubans who continue the fight for freedom that Payá was an instrumental part of for so many years.”

The Varela Project was part of that fight.

CBS4’s Elliot Rodriguez was one of the first journalists to see the petitions gathered in hopes of demanding a peaceful transition to democracy.

Payá wanted change for his country, and he made trying to achieve it his life’s work.

“He made a difference in the world,” Fr. Sosa said. “And so I think Oswaldo’s death and passing will make a difference in Cuba as well.”

President Obama issued a statement Monday to say his thoughts and prayers are with Payá’s family and friends.

He added he continues to be inspired by Payá’s vision and dedication to a better future for Cuba.

A mass in honor of Payá is planned for Tuesday, July 24th at 8pm at Ermita de la Caridad, located at 3609 S. Miami Avenue.

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