/ Updated 

President Barack Obama stopped by a chapel serving Miami's Cuban-American community while visiting Florida Thursday.

About a dozen people were inside the chapel of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity when the president stopped in "to pay his respects to the Cuban-American diaspora that worship there" and "honor the sacrifices Cuban-Americans have made in their pursuit of liberty and opportunity, as well as their extraordinary contributions to our country," the White House said in a statement issued after the visit.

According to press pool reports distributed by the White House, about 13 people were in the church pews at the time Obama arrived. He viewed a two-story mural at the church's front that depicted important figures in Cuba's history, from Christopher Columbus, revolutionary Jose Martí and Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican friar who chronicled Spanish atrocities against indigenous peoples in Latin America. Central to the mural is a depiction of Our Lady of Charity holding the infant Jesus.

The visit follows Obama's efforts to improve relations with Cuba, including easing some travel restrictions, opening up opportunities for U.S. financial and telecommunications businesses in Cuba and removing Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which becomes official on Friday.

The administration's efforts have been criticized by Cuban-American members of Congress, including presidential candidates Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Despite shared opposition with some in the Cuban-American community, including those who fled Fidel Castro's regime, there has also been support in the community to the changes.


--Suzanne Gamboa