“It is amazing to be here, in this place,” say the men, who were invited on a Pilgrimage of Thanks following their 68-day ordeal trapped underground.
It was dubbed a “Pilgrimage of Thanks,” as 25 of the 31 Chilean miners rescued from a collapsed mine last October traveled to Israel for an eight-day tour of the Holy Land.
Along with their spouses or girlfriends, and a four-month-old infant who was baptized in the Jordan River, the miners enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to Israel at the invitation of the Israeli government.
The miners, who emerged safely from underground after the highly televised 68-day affair, expressed extreme gratitude for the Israeli show of generosity.
They met with such notables as Israeli President Shimon Peres and Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov. Peres told the men that Israel had been praying for their safe return, and as a small gesture gave them a golden globe of the city of Jerusalem.
Later, in a moment of spontaneity, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked to meet with the miners in his Jerusalem office on the day they were scheduled to leave Israel.
‘A very touching visit’
“Above the fun and excitement of coming to the country, they were also given a lot of respect,” says Pinchas Shani, director of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism’s Overseas Department, who organized the tour and accompanied the group at various stops on their trip.
Shani reckons that the miners weren’t prepared for the celebrity they would find in Israel.
“It was a very touching visit with many emotions expressed — positive emotions, I think,” he tells ISRAEL21c not long after the group had departed. “The miners knew they were coming to the Holy Land but it really struck them how strong the spiritual experience could be — at the Jordan River baptismal for instance — and how close one can get to their faith when one is physically in those places.”
Deeply religious Catholics, the miners’ families had kept a vigil during their ordeal, and even the Pope had sent them blessed rosaries. In Israel, the miners were treated to a pilgrim’s dream tour, including Nazareth, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
“It is a great honor for us to be here, because the God who rescued us from the bowels of the earth is the God who brought us here, and we are so grateful,” said one of the miners, José Enriquez, who acted as a spiritual guide and spokesman for the group. “It is amazing to be here, in this place, to be able to thank God for what he did for us.”
At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Enriquez added: “He took this terrible accident and he has used it for something good to unite the entire world.”
The eight-day trip was marked by daily prayer sessions and meetings with religious officials from the Christian and Jewish faiths. Israel’s Western Wall rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, told them that the Jews in Israel and across the world had been praying for them.
The miners requested, for obvious reasons, not to tour the underground tunnels below the Western Wall in Jerusalem. But they did enjoy a mud bath in the Dead Sea, the ancient Jewish fortress at Masada built by King Herod, and – a highlight for all Christian tourists — a visit the Sea of Galilee and baptism in the Jordan River.
Miner Richard Godoy used the opportunity to dip his baby son, also named Richard, into the water, uttering with supreme faith and thanks: “Now that my baby has been baptized in the name of God in the River Jordan, I feel content.”