This past weekend The Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, or La Ermita de la Caridad, celebrated its 40th anniversary since it opened in Miami with funds from Cuban exiles.
La Ermita de La Caridad is a replica of the shrine in El Cobre, a village near Santiago de Cuba. The Miami shrine overlooks the sea that connects Cubans to their homeland.
Julio Estorino is a retired Cuban journalist who took part in building La Ermita in Miami 40 years ago.
"This is a symbol of Cuba," Estorino says. "This is a symbol of our eternal struggle for freedom, and for democracy, for human rights. This is a place that reminds us each and every day that we have a job to do regarding Cuba."
To this day, many Cubans visit La Ermita.
"Many young people, old people -- when they come by sea in the rafts, or no matter the way they get here, one of their favorite places they want to come to is La Ermita," Estorino says.
One of those people is Lilly Perez. She came here from Cuba when she was 4 years old. Now a student in Tampa Bay, she still makes a pilgrimage once a year to La Ermita.
"It depicts hope for a lot of Cuban-Americans that come from Cuba to Miami," said Perez. "It resembles the original in a lot of ways. It's nice that we have this ability to all congregate together and show who we are to the rest of the country because nothing like this exists in Tampa Bay. Nothing exists like this anywhere else in the country."
Perez has been to the original shrine in Cuba with her family. When her grandmother saw La Ermita de la Caridad in Miami, tears poured down her face.
"People sometimes come here crying because it makes them very emotional," says Sister Elvira Garcia, a visiting nun from Cuba.
Ever since La Ermita was founded, she and other Daughters of the Charity have offered their services to the shrine.
"When Cubans enter here they feel relief," said Sister Garcia. "We receive them with affection, with love- feeling their same grief, their same pain because of the separation from their country."
The evening mass to commemorate the anniversary had people spilling out of the church's front door and onto its steps. When mass ended, everyone went outside to eat paella and listen to live music by the sea.