February 3rd, 2011
12:15 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
One of the rescued Chilean miners shed new light Thursday on the intense religious and spiritual experiences of many of the miners while trapped underground for 52 days last year, saying that faith was a key part of surviving t he ordeal.
"We realized we had only one alternative and that was God himself," said Jose Henriquez in an address to the National Prayer Breakfast on in Washington, speaking to a crowd that included President Barack Obama.
"We were different creeds and churches," Henriquez said, speaking in Spanish with simultaneous translation. "So I got them in a circle and made sure everyone could pray in a participatory fashion. And as we prayed we began to know the presence and blessing among us of God in the mine. We were strengthened, our spirits were revived.”
He said the first seventeen days were the hardest, having no communication with the outside world.
“We had some serious problems. We had very little food for three days only, no water," he said. “So we decided unless we prayed and God did a miracle there would be no way out. And that became our daily hope and confidence. We began to pray that he would do a miracle among us and solve our problems.”
There were tensions in the collapsed mine, including fist fights among the miners.
Henriquez did not speak about those fights but talked about how the miners resolved tensions. “This democratic community was not a secular democracy but a praying, democratic community," he said. "God began to reconcile us together and so we’d get one with the other and forced them to shake their hand, we maintained the peace and community spirit that way.”
He said a turning point for the miners was the delivery of small Bibles through the tubes rescue workers used to provide food, medicine, supplies and entertainment. “There was one Bible for each man with his name on it," Henriquez said holding the small Bible above his head to show the crowd.
As a final act of thanksgiving Henriquez said he got the men to pray before they entered the rescue craft that would shuttle them to freedom. “Some wanted to dive in and get in the capsule but I said, 'Hold it. Were going to pray first.'”
As they emerged from the depths he said it seemed as though the whole world was watching. The miners wore tan t-shirts over their coveralls. The shirts were provided by a local branch of Campus Crusade for Christ. Henriquez said the miners felt like the t-shirts were, "the best way to express the way we were feeling was to wear these t-shirts we had made that said, Thank you Lord, thank you Jesus.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.