President Barack Obama extended a symbolic olive branch Thursday to Miami’s Cuban Americans by paying his respects to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Coconut Grove.
Earlier in the day, Obama visited the National Hurricane Center and met privately with the Pinecrest family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist slain last year by the Islamic State, to offer condolences.
The surprise afternoon stop at the shrine by the sea, better known by its Spanish name, La Ermita de la Caridad, comes at a time when many Cuban exiles remain miffed by the president’s decision last December to restore diplomatic relations with the communist island, especially since Obama made no effort to reach out to Miami leaders prior to his announcement.
Obama is the first president to pay his respects to the shrine, according to the Archdiocese of Miami. It’s named after the patroness saint of Cuba.
“Hola,” he told 13 worshipers seated in the church pews when he walked in. The Rev. Juan Rumin Dominguez guided the president, along with Cristina Brito, who served as interpreter.
This post has been updated.