COPIAPO, Chile –– As miners were pulled one-by-one Oct. 13 from the tunnel in the San Jose mine in Copiapo, celebrations of thanksgiving replaced the round-the-clock vigils and special Masses appealing for the men’s safety.
Many of the miners, who had last been above ground Aug. 5, came out of their rescue capsule making some gesture to God, kneeling in prayer, crossing themselves and voicing prayers.
“By their witness of unity and solidarity, these 33 brothers have united all Chileans,” said a statement issued by the standing committee of Chile’s Catholic bishops the day after the rescue operation was completed.
“Their strength and hope invites us to work together as a society to ‘rescue’ so many brothers who suffer from poverty and marginalization, looking to make Chile ‘a table for everyone,'” the Oct. 14 statement said.
Among the thousands of people waiting at Camp Hope outside the mine in the daylong culmination of a two-month rescue effort, Bishop Gaspar Quintana Jorquera of Copiapo spent time with miners’ families, sharing in celebrations with those already out of the mine and encouraging those awaiting their loved ones’ return. The bishop also celebrated Mass at the camp, asking God’s protection for the miners, seeking guidance for the rescue and offering thanks for all those involved in the effort.
Masses and prayer services of thanksgiving near the mine and around the country quickly replaced the Masses and prayer services of the previous days that were focused on asking for protection for the miners and for the success of the rescue effort.
An image of Our Lady of Candelaria, patron of Chile’s miners, which had been a fixture at Camp Hope, was to be moved back to its place in Candelaria Church in Copiapo in a procession Oct. 14.
At a Mass that began late Oct. 12, as the first miner was being brought to the surface, Santiago Auxiliary Bishop Cristian Contreras Villarroel said the lives of the 33 miners should be seen as a sign of the need all people have for redemption.
“There is no saint without a past, nor sinner without a future,” he reminded the congregation in El Sagrario chapel next to Santiago’s Metropolitan Cathedral.
In a daylong drama watched worldwide on television and the Internet, miners were raised to the surface one at a time from the tunnel where they were trapped in a collapse of the mine Aug. 5. Family members, medical personnel, politicians, reporters and well-wishers were there to meet each man as he left the capsule that drew him to the surface.
The bishops’ standing committee expressed the “immense joy and thanks to God” for the rescue of the “33 miner brothers,” and noted that it had been a time of prayers from millions of people around the world, in particular Pope Benedict XVI, who showed special concern.
“We are happy to see and hear our brother miners, their loved ones, the authorities and people throughout Chile thanking God for this gift, for this miracle with which we have been blessed,” the bishops said. They also expressed their appreciation for the “admirable efforts of technicians, professionals, laborers, countrymen and foreigners, who have contributed to the preparation for and execution of the rescue.”
They said they would continue to pray for the miners and their families, that “this re-encounter with life will be an opportunity for them and for all of us to appreciate the most precious things we have, life, dignity as children of God, faith, the treasure of family, the value of work justly compensated and in secure and dignified conditions.”