|The rescued miners were hounded by the media as they gathered for a mass at mouth of the Chilean mine [Reuters]|
Most of the 33 miners who were rescued last week after spending 69 days underground have returned to the mine for a religious service to celebrate their successful rescue.
The miners, their families and friends attended an interfaith ceremony on Sunday, led by clergy from several religions at the mouth of the San Jose copper and gold mine from which they were hoisted to freedom in a flawless rescue operation watched around the world.
The private service was held in the area known as “Camp Hope,” the tent city where family members gathered to pray and await news about their husbands, sons and fathers trapped for more than two months 625 metres underground.
“The ceremony was beautiful,” Mario Gomez, who at 63 is the oldest of the 33 men, said.
“We always had faith that we were going to get out. Now it is time to rest.”
The service was closed to the press. During the ceremony, participants could be heard clapping loudly and singing religious hymns and Chile’s national anthem.
As they sang, some relatives finished packing up their tents, preparing to leave “Camp Hope” behind.
Dario Segovia, the 20th miner to be sent up in the rescue capsule last Wednesday, came out to help them. In one tent, small children lay in the shade, giggling on mattresses.
So far, the miners have not revealed many of the details of what it was really like after the cave-in left them huddled together in a dark and damp cavern. Some are talking about saving their stories for a book about those 69 hellish days.
Gomez’s daughter said he has not talked about the worst moments and the family has not pressed him to open up.
“I want to know everything,” Romina Gomez, 20, told the Reuters news agency. “But we don’t want to ask him.”
A poll published on Sunday by La Tercera newspaper said that 84 per cent of Chileans approved the handling of the mine crisis by Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire businessman who became president of the country in March.
The conservative leader visited the mine several times during the two months the workers were trapped and personally oversaw the 23-hour rescue operation during which they were hoisted one by one to the surface.
His overall popularity was 62 per cent, according to La Tercera’s poll, conducted late last week. Surveys taken before the rescue had placed Pinera’s popularity in the 50s.
Basking in the glow of the successful rescue, Pinera took some rock from the mine on a European tour. He is expected to meet Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Monday and hold talks with David Cameron, the British prime minister.
“I am bringing him a piece of rock from the mine, so he will keep it in Downing Street as a tribute to courage, faith and hope,” Pinera told reporters in London.
When the mine caved in, the men were thought to have died in yet another of Latin America’s litany of mining accidents. Rescuers found them two and a half weeks later with a bore hole the width of a grapefruit.
That tiny hole became an umbilical cord used to pass down hydration gels, water and food to keep them alive. A bigger shaft was later bored to bring them up.
The miners were hauled out in a metal capsule little wider than a man’s shoulders and dubbed “Phoenix” after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes. Gomez returned to the surface with some advice for his grandchildren.
“Never go into a mine,” he said on local television. “Study a profession.”