Earlier this week, a man named Manuel Gonzalez was the first person to travel one particular half-mile stretch of God’s earth. Mr. Gonzalez was the first of six rescue workers to squeeze himself into a 21 inch capsule and be lowered down the half-mile shaft that connected 33 men to the outside world. Two months, eight days, and six hours after their excruciating ordeal began, those 33 Chilean miners greeted Mr. Gonzalez with all due kindness and enthusiasm.
Mr. Gonzalez found the miners in better shape than anyone had expected. They “had survived for 17 days on just two spoonfuls of tuna, a cup of milk, one cracker and a bit of a peach topping every other day. Their digestive and insulin systems had nearly shut down and they were breaking down their own fat and muscle tissue.”1 They had to be nursed back to health from afar; supplies were sent down a two-inch tube, their only link to the surface. Rumors of discord and strife were reported around the world, but Jimmy Sanchez, one of the miners, sent a note telling the outside world how the 33 miners had managed to live together in relative harmony. “There are actually 34 of us,” the nineteen-year-old miner wrote from the mine on Tuesday, “because God has never left us down here.”2
“Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord himself is thy keeper.” King David was not wrong when he wrote those words; certainly Mario Gomez agrees. Mr. Gomez became the spiritual leader of his fellow minors. He led prayers and requested Bibles and statues of the saints to create a shrine in their little hole in the ground. Another Mario, miner Mario Sepulveda, “surfaced to say, “I was with God, and I was with the devil. They fought, and God won.” According to CNN, Sepulveda said that he had grabbed the hand of God and then never entertained another doubt that rescue would come.”3 “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; yea, it is even he that shall keep thy soul,” David wrote; both Marios would agree.
The plight of the Chilean miners have become the world’s feel-good story of the year; it didn’t have to end up that way. The mine could have further collapsed or the rescue tube could have never gotten to them. Their food could have run out too soon or the special drill used to bore an escape shaft could have killed them rather than saved them. Worse yet, the men trapped in that mine could have turned on each other; they could have had their own little Lord of the Flies moment. Even worse, they could have given up hope. Those miners could have given up hope and turned in on themselves, turned away from God and the possibility of God redeeming their horrible situation.
Instead they looked around them and saw the fight of their lives. They saw the devil and the Lord fighting it out for the souls like modern day Jobs. Some were nominal in their faith or had left the Catholic Church altogether. But they sided with God. Crucifixes, Bibles, statues of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the patroness of Chile, were requested. And so the fight was on, and on October 13th, the 93rd anniversary of Mary’s appearing to the people of Fatima, the miners prayers were answered in full.
Courage. Persistence. Perseverance. Sounds like a list of the powers of a comic book super hero until you add one more: prayer. Then you get Jesus. Then you get Christians, Christians around the world and especially in Chile who sought out God’s mercy like a drowning man seeks air. Father Alfredo Cooper, chaplain to Chilean President, said that faith and prayer were central to how President Pinera handled the crisis: “When they first vanished, we didn’t know whether they were alive or dead. So outside of the mine the role of faith and prayer was central. The President called for an emergency prayer meeting. We prayed in the presidential palace. We left their photos on the altar in the chapel in the palace. That prayer meeting was attended by all the ministers and two weeks later they were found.”4 Not saved, just found. It took another two months of prayers, the constant vigils outside the mine and in cities around the world, it took courage and persistence and perseverance to save those blessed 33, but most of all, it took Jesus. But of course, He had never left them at all.
1Defying Predictions, Miners Kept Healthy, The New York Times, 10/13/10
2Chilean Miner: God has never left us, Christianity Today
3Miner’s Rescue, Frank Logue, ENS
4Independent Catholic News