Some people contacted Radio 5 Live today, I gather, complaining about the extent of the news coverage of the Chilean mine rescue. “It’s not as if England have won the World Cup.” Who on earth, I wondered, could be so put out that their bit of news was being eclipsed? What an extraordinary complaint! 33 trapped miners struggling for survival for 69 days being brought from death to life – a modern miracle indeed. I suppose some football freaks might consider England winning a miracle too, but actually that is only a game. This is life.
The launch of the Resistance Campaign – do you remember? – 3rd June this year. It’s a coalition of Disabled groups who were campaigning against any possible legalisation of physician assisted suicide. You probably don’t, because it was buried by the Cumbrian shootings. I regretted at the time that the Resistance Campaign failed to hit the headlines, but such is the nature of the news media.
However this story, Operation San Lorenzo, is of mythic proportions, of even greater magnitude than Apollo 13. 33 men buried half a mile beneath a mountain for 17 days without any communication with the outside, waiting, for all they knew, for a lingering and inevitable death. The cavern where they were trapped they called Hell (“This hell is killing me”). The camp above in the Atacama Desert, where the rescuers and the miners’ families were, was called ‘L’Esperanza’ – Hope. The capsule was called The Phoenix. All the imagery is full of potency: from imprisonment to freedom, from darkness to light, from death to life, from hell to heaven, rebirth, resurrection, miracle…. I was puzzling with Jane about how they were located by the probes in this huge 130-year old mine. Subsequently I heard the President’s chaplain, Alfred Cooper, describing the prayer meeting that was called when news of the disaster broke, and then how the eighth probe was deflected off a rock into the space where the miners were trapped.
“The first miracle, you believe?” asked Matt Frei, the BBC anchorman. The chaplain (who, incidentally, has links with our local parish church) was in no doubt that there were numerous miracles as well as enormous resources of engineering and scientific skill. It was remarkable that the night of 12th/13th was completely clear at San José, whereas apparently almost always it is smothered in cloud, “a pea-souper”. It meant that the helicopter taking the men to hospital was able to fly freely. As one of the miners, Mario Sepulveda, said, “I’ve been with God, and I’ve been with the devil. They fought – and God won…I grabbed God’s hand. I never doubted that He would bring me out.”
The consistent message of the miners was that they always had faith (whether in God or not) and they were determined not to give up. When the rescue capsule reached them, they sang about the One who loved them. They talked about the struggle, about fighting to live. And of course the families were praying in “Hope”. And the world watched – and it was good news. My first ever blog entry was about the determination of the triathlete, Jessica Harrison, who trained relentlessly – and for me was an example of not giving up. Well, this, the longest ever mine ‘disaster’ to be survived is an even more powerful. inspiration never to give up. The baby born to one of the miners a few weeks ago says it all – she’s named Esperanza. Hope. Above all, thirty-three men are alive. Thank God – you really should.