Fr Alvaro Martinez
During the rescue effort to free 33 miners in the San José mine near Copiapó in Northern Chile, Columban Fr Alvaro Martinez went to ‘Camp Hope’ with a television crew to do a report for the program, ‘The Paths of the Church’. He said, “We planned to speak with the families of the miners about how their religious faith helped them deal with waiting and hoping for the rescue of the miners.
On the streets of the mining camp, ‘Hope’, one can feel the anxiety of just waiting for the rescue. Each person, relatives and miners, feel the hammering of the machines that break the rock in search of the trapped men. This banging provokes both anxiety and hope. It also creates tension between people, as do a variety of circumstances of this temporary living arrangement. There are 33 families who have come to live in the camp. They live in tents without the conveniences of a town, but they do have running water and toilets. Recently a small school was installed so the miners’ children can continue with their classes. The camp is located 45 kilometres north of Copiapó.” Copiapó is 800 kms North of Santiago, Chile.
In the midst of this tension I felt the harassment from international mass media organisations making offers for an exclusive interview when the miners come out of the earth. Big money provokes people to make a deal with major television chains. I suggested to one family member whom I was interviewing that they be careful about allowing their men being subjected to more stress as they came out of the mine. The response was clear and firm: “We have to get organised to ensure the future”. Tough, but realistic. They are determined to do something about the bad work conditions of miners.
Along with that seething determination to work for greater justice in the workplace, the miners and their families have demonstrated an unbreakable trust in God and the Virgin Mary, giving witness of a living faith to the whole country. They made the idea of trusting in God real as the families and their men organised both above and below ground with daily routines of work and prayer. In the interviews with the families and friends who await the rescue I could feel how their faith was key to sustaining them in the midst of the tensions and anxiety of the ongoing rescue work.
Miguel Valenzuela was one of those who spoke to me. He said, “I’m not one for going to church but the day they told me the children (that is how their family members refer to the trapped miners) were alive I exploded with joy; I gave thanks to God and the Virgin Mary for returning our ‘children’ to us. The miracle that they are alive is half of it; the other half (which has yet to happen) is getting each one of them out alive”.
I asked Alonso Contreras, cousin of Carlos, one of the trapped miners - What happened in the mine? How have those men united and kept themselves going through their faith in God? He told me that there was one miner who is a man of faith and piety, who had been a messenger of hope for all the trapped men. He awakened the desire to look at God in the darkness 700 metres down and find the light of the Risen One. One of the trapped miners did not believe in God, but in one of the first telephone conversations he told his cousin, “I have found God and believe God exists.
These stories move me to share the importance of being a missionary in today’s world. A man of faith proclaimed a message of hope in the face of despair; he was able to see light in the midst of the darkness 700 metres below the earth’s surface. This man’s example urges us to witness our own faith, to offer hope in the face of despair.
Fr Alvaro Martinez SSC has worked in Santiago, Chile for many years.