President Obama’s outreach to two Cuban dissidents in Miami Friday (Nov. 8) was “a welcome and appropriate gesture,” the National Council of Churches (NCC) said Sunday (Nov. 10).

Mr. Obama met with dissidents Berta Soler, leader of La Damas de Blanco ― the Ladies in White ― and Guillermo Fariñas, spokesperson for the Cuban Patriotic Union.

The President told the dissidents he admires their sacrifices, according to a report in the Miami Herald.

“The most important thing here was the recognition of the president of the United States, the most powerful democracy in the world,” Fariñas told the Herald following the meeting.

Soler has also met this year with Pope Francis and Vice President Joe Biden.

Last month the NCC joined other religious leaders in calling upon President Obama to hasten normalization of relations with Cuba.

“We believe that an improved, more cooperative relationship between our nation and Cuba would benefit Cuban churches and help facilitate progress toward full political freedom and economic opportunity for the Cuban people,” the U.S. Church leaders said in the letter.http://www.nationalcouncilofchurches.us/news/cubaletteroctober2013.php

“But we also want Cuban leaders to know that people in U.S. churches are aware of almost daily harassment and physical intimidation of dissidents,” said NCC President Kathryn Lohre. 

Eyewitnesses in Cuba use social media such as Twitter (@damasdeblanco) to report weekly confrontations with Ladies in White and their relatives as they gather peacefully in churches. Reported incidents have included women and men being dragged from churches, sometimes facing physical assault. 

“People in our churches are following these reports with deep concern,” Lohre said. “It is the historic conviction of the American people that a fundamental responsibility of any government is to assure freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of worship without interfering in the work or witness of churches.”