MIAMI (CBS4) – The life and passion of one of Cuba’s most well known voices of the dissident movement was celebrated Tuesday at a special mass in Miami.

Oswaldo Payá was killed in a car crash in Bayamo, Cuba Sunday. Payá was an engineer by trade, but advocating for a free and democratic Cuba was his life’s true passion.

“The mass this evening has been a great sign of hope and inspiration,” 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, who founded the Christian Liberation Movement, as a simple man.

“He was a very quiet person a very kind person but very but also  very perceptive about what he wanted and very focused…. He was just a good person,” Sosa said.

The mass to honor Payá was held at Ermita de la Caridad, located at 3609 S. Miami Avenue. Hundreds attended including Alejandro Diaz who says his family signed Paya’s petitions demanding a peaceful transition to democracy. ”

“What he was fighting for was their lives – give them their lives, give the people their lives, so that means a lot for us,” said Diaz.

Cuba’s government has reported that Payá was in a rental car with three other people when the driver lost control and ran into a tree.

Not so, according to Payá’s daughter Rosa Marie Payá. In a recording on Payá’s website, she said she heard from others in the car that they were rammed by another car which tried to push them off the road. She added that she’s convinced that someone was trying to hurt them and ended up killing her father. She blames the Castro regime.

“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.

“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.

 

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