Nine members of the School of Theology at the University of the South in Tennessee are visiting the Episcopal Cathedral of Havana, Cuba, this week as part of a religious venture.
The Rev. Donna Mote, who's known as the Vicar of ATL for her work as an airport chaplain, is one among a nine-member delegation that will be in Cuba through Saturday, which will be the fourth trip that a delegation from the School of Theology has made to Cuba and the Episcopal seminary there.
"It's been a strange experience to always have to get permission, through a license through the Department of the Treasury in order to travel because of our economic embargo," Mote told Atlanta's NBC affiliate11-Alve news on Sunday.
For Mote, the trip to Cuba won't be her first, as she's visited the Communist island nation multiple times since 1996. But this time, she said, is going to be different.
The delegation's trip comes a few weeks after President Barack Obama made the announcement that Cuba and the U.S. will normalize diplomatic relations after 50 years of sanctions.
"When the announcement was made on Dec. 17, I personally was elated, as were people traveling in the group. Really great news."
As part of the Cold War, the U.S. government put sanctions on Cuba in response to its fall to Communism in 1959.
Coming as part of the negotiated prisoner exchange that included the release of American prisoner Alan Gross, Obama announced in mid-December about what was to change.
"We will end an outdated approach, which for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries," Obama said. "Over many months, my administration has held discussions with the Cuban government about Alan's case and other aspects of our relationship. His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me and to Cuba's President, Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan's case."
The news was welcomed by the Episcopal Church. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori released a statement of approval regarding the international development.
"The return of Alan Gross and the remaining three of the Cuban Five to their homes will bring great rejoicing to their families and their nations. This action also opens the door to regularized relations between these two countries for the first time in 50 years," Jefferts Schori said. "The Episcopal Church rejoices with these families and we have deep hope for the possibilities of reconciliation and exchange between the divided parts of the church and humanity."
Obama's move toward normalization was not universally accepted, as many in the Cuban-American community took issue with the announcement.
Many who've sought refuge in the U.S. due to persecution of a political or religious nature under Cuba's Castro regime protested the announcement.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, himself a Cuban-American, said in an interview on ABC's program "This Week" that the easing of sanctions and restrictions was wrong.
"I know it won't lead to freedom and liberty for the Cuban people, which is my sole interest here," said Rubio, a possible future presidential candidate.