What the Chilean Mine Rescue Teaches Us

Many have called the fascinating rescue of the thirty-three Chilean miners a miracle. Some use that word to credit the rescue to God's direct intervention. "But," as Eugene Cullen Kennedy wrote in the National Catholic Reporter, "this remarkable and riveting accomplishment is, in fact, a demonstration of human power, machinery and rescue devices that were born not in some divine workshop but in the human imagination."

Kennedy goes on to say that the word "miracle" is from the Latin "mirari" and means to wonder. Indeed, the whole world wondered in amazement as it watched the liberation of the miners trapped for more than two months a half-mile underground.

More than just wonder, the world cooperated. The half-mile cable, the kind that transports skiers in cable cars across the Alps, came from Germany. A special drill bit capable of cutting through the hard volcanic rock in Copiaco, Chili came from Center Rock, Inc. in Pennsylvania. Japan sent the fiber-optic communications that enabled the miners to communicate with the rescuers. Samsung in South Korea provided a cell phone with its projector to allow the miners to view together the scene a half-mile above them. NASA provided nutritional and psychological advice, as well as aid for the design and construction of the rescue pods that raised the miners to safety.

Aramark in the United States developed a way to get vacuum-packed food down the smaller borehole after the miners were discovered alive. Even Oakley Sun Glasses in Foothill Ranch, California donated 35 pair of polarized lenses to protect the miners' sight when they emerged into the light. (If you would like to buy a pair, think twice. They retail, at $180 each!) Workers from Canada and a drilling consultant from Australia all helped make the rescue possible.

This "miracle" was not the work of an all-powerful, micro-managing, divine CEO looking down from heaven; it was the work of human ingenuity here on earth. That is how the divine is made manifest in human life. God works through human beings and this work is best accomplished when, as in this miraculous rescue, people work together.

It is to Chile's credit that they were opened to this international help. Many nations, because of fear, suspicion and insecurity, would not be receptive. Think of Russia's reluctance in 2000 to accept international assistance when the Kurst, their nuclear powered submarine sank off the coast of Norway in the Barents Sea. One hundred and eighteen Russian sailors died.

Perhaps too Chile once and for all can put to rest the dark history of the 1973 CIA backed assassination of President Salvador Allende and the repressive and bloody government of General Augusto Pinochet. Chile made a peaceful transition to democracy only in 1990.

One of the most dramatic sidebars of this rescue was the meeting of the Bolivian President (one of the rescued miners was Bolivian) and the President of Chile. Evo Morales is the President of Bolivia. Morales is a poor Aymara Indian and one of the most left wing, socialist leaders in Latin America. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera is one of the richest men in Chile and staunchly conservative. A billionaire who studied at Harvard, he had a father who had been the Chilean ambassador to the United Nations. The two presidents could not have been more different, yet they met in a brotherly ambrazo united by this human miracle as they set aside their differences.

An even more meaningful miracle would be if the nations could put aside political, social, and national differences and again pool their expertise and wealth to rescue the world's poor from poverty and hunger, and provide them housing, clothing and medical care. This is of course unlikely. It is a utopian dream and ignores original sin: the self-interest and selfishness, which in different degrees, exists in all nations, political parties and policies.

Perhaps the most rewarding political miracle from this rescue would be the drafting of effective laws and the enforcement of existing laws to protect all the world's miners whose safety is often jeopardized for an increase in profits. Such disregard for miners' safety has certainly been true in China and Russia : and in the United States.

In April 2010, twenty-nine miners were killed in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia. The Massey Energy Company, which operated that mine, had been often cited and fined for serious and repeated violations. There is no question that if America wishes to protect its miners we needs more effective legislation and enforcement. The coal lobby, however, is massively powerful and has caused partisan gridlock in Washington between Democrats who generally endorse labor safety (except Democratic members of Congress from states where coal mining is a major industry!) and Republicans who generally protect corporate interests. For this reason Congress has been unable to pass meaningful legislation.

For any reform to happen in Russia, China or in this country, people not God must to do it. This is not only true for the protection of miners; every consequential project demands such human resourcefulness.

Perhaps it was another president, the American John Kennedy who said it best: "Let us go forth ... asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

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