MIAMI (CBSMiami) — President Barack Obama made an unplanned stop while in Miami, to a shrine considered important in the Cuban community.READ MORE: COVID-19 Testing Sites In South Florida
Following his visit to the National Hurricane Center, Obama arrived at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, the Roman Catholic patron saint of Cuba, just after 2 p.m. The shrine is also known in Spanish as La Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre, or simply as La Ermita.
Obama walked right up to the front of the church in Coconut Grove with Father Juan Rumin Dominguez.
Inside, 13 people sat silently in the pews of the church as the president and Father Rumin spoke. The two talked about the church with the help of an interpreter.
Father Dominguez says he told the president a simple message.
“We want, we pray every day for freedom, real, real freedom for Cuban people,” he told CBS 4’s Carey Codd.
Father Dominguez explained to the President that the shrine is welcoming place for all as about a dozen people sat in the pews watching the President light a candle and say a prayer.READ MORE: Florida Poised To End Financial Ties With Ben & Jerry’s Over Decision To Stop Selling Products In West Bank, Gaza
Father Dominguez, a Cuban himself, understands the politics of the moment with President Obama attempting to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba.
“It was a great experience to explain face to face to President Obama our feelings about the process, the new relations between Cuba and the United States,” he said.
Father Dominguez says he understands the need for economic relations with Cuba but said he is more concerned with human rights. He says the President assured him that he feels the same way.
“He told me that that is the goal of these negotiations — the real freedom of Cuban people,” Father Dominguez said. “He told me that in all the conversations, human rights is a very important point on the table.”
National Security Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the president visited the shrine to pay his respects to the Cuban-American diaspora that worship there.
In a statement she said the president was honoring the “sacrifices that Cuban-Americans have made in their pursuit of liberty and opportunity, as well as their extraordinary contributions to our country. ”
The shrine has a replica of Our Lady of Charity that arrived from Cuba in 1961 . The feast of Our Lady of Charity is celebrated annually on September 8th.
On Twitter, students at La Salle High School, near to the church, were on lockdown during the president’s stop.MORE NEWS: COVID-19 Vaccination Sites In South Florida