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Gay-affirming, Cuban-born pastor Luis Leon to give benediction at President Obama's 2nd inaugural

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

A gay-affirming, Cuban-born Episcopal pastor has been chosen to give the benediction on Jan. 21 at President Barack Obama's second inaugural.

Episcopal pastor Luis Leon replaces evangelical pastor Louie Giglio, who quickly withdrew from the ceremony after the website ThinkProgress reported he had condemned gay rights in the 1990s.

The inaugural committee apologized for choosing Giglio, saying it didn't know of his stands on gay issues: "We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural."

On Wednesday, the inaugural committee formally announced Giglio's replacement, a clergyman who came from Cuba to Miami as a boy in the 1960s during Operation Pedro Pan.

Leon, who presides over John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., a gay -affirming congregation attended by the Obama family, is the second Cuban-American on the inaugural program.

Last week, Miami-raised Richard Blanco was chosen to read the inaugural poem at the ceremony, becoming the first Hispanic and first LGBT person to do so.

Here's a short profile of Leon that appears in Thursday's Miami Herald, written by Daniel Shoer Roth and Luisa Yanez:

In 1961, Luis Leon fled his native Cuba for Miami. He was only 11 and traveling alone.

He carried only a change of clothes a toothbrush and $3 in his pocket.

In exile, Leon would choose a life in the clergy and eventually head the historic church near the White House known as "Church of the Presidents" — John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.

At Monday’s inauguration, the young boy who was among the 14,048 Cuban children spirited away from Fidel Castro’s Communist indoctrination during the famed Operation Pedro Pan will take center stage as he gives the benediction at President Barrack Obama’s second swearing in.

The Episcopalian pastor embodies the spirit of the country’s diversity. On Election Day, Obama cemented his victory with strong support from Latinos.

“It’s an honor to be a part of such a milestone in American history, as all inaugurations are. And it’s a special honor because as an immigrant, this is the only country where something like this could happen to me,” Leon, 63, told The Miami Herald in a telephone interview on Wednesday from his church.

"I feel that in some way I am representing the U.S. Hispanic community. And we’re an important part of this country," said Leon, who is married to his wife, Lu, and has two grown daughters.

Leon is not the only Cuban-American with Miami ties taking part in the inauguration ceremony, which will be held at the National Mall starting at 11:30 a.m.

Obama also personally chose Miami-raised poet Richard Blanco, who was born in Spain to Cuban parents, to read an inauguration poem. Blanco is the first Hispanic and also the youngest poet to ever participate in a swearing in.

Leon is no stranger to presidential ceremonies. As minister of St. John's since 1995, he has counseled from the pulpit three presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.

It’s also not the first time for Leon giving the benediction. In 2005, he became the first Hispanic to deliver the inaugural benediction to President Bush.

During his three allotted minutes on Monday where he will hopefully have the attention of millions of American watching, Leon said he will speak of reconciliation.

"My concern is that we are not speaking to each other," Leon said. "I think when God blesses us, God is calling for the best in us in our relationships with each other.’’

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