President Obama extended a symbolic olive branch Thursday to Miami's Cuban-Americans by paying his respects to the shrine to Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Coconut Grove.
Many Cuban exiles remain miffed by the president's December decision to restore diplomatic relations with the island, especially since Obama made no effort to reach out to Miami leaders prior to his announcement.
As he concluded a two-day trip to raise political cash and get a hurricane briefing, Obama made an unscheduled stop at the Coconut Grove shrine by the sea, better known by its Spanish name, La Ermita de la Caridad. Our Lady of Charity is the patron saint of Cuba.
"Hola," Obama said as he walked in. He was greeted by 13 worshipers seated in the church pews. Father Juan Rumin Dominguez guided the president, along with Cristina Brito, who was interpreting from Spanish to English for Obama.
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"It's beautiful," the president said at one point, admiring the shrine's famous mural, which depicts the virgin but also key figures in Cuban history, such as Christopher Columbus and poet José Martí.
"The President is visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami to pay his respects to the Cuban-American diaspora that worship there," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement. "He will honor the sacrifices that Cuban-Americans have made in their pursuit of liberty and opportunity, as well as their extraordinary contributions to our country."