Some of the 33 miners who were rescued last week after 69 days trapped underground returned Sunday for a religious service at the mine in northern Chile that almost became their tomb.
The miners, their families and friends will attend a ceremony in a tent at the mouth of the San Jose copper and gold mine from which they were rescued Wednesday in a painstakingly planned and perfectly executed operation that was watched live on television around the world.
Among the first 10 miners to arrive for the service was Juan Carlos Aguilar, who walked around the minehead holding the hand of his young daughter.
He and the other men were trapped for more than two months at 2,050 feet underground before being rescued. The ceremony, expected to trigger strong emotions, will seek to honor the miners' solidarity and determination to survive.
"It's going to be difficult, but we know we can take it," Omar Reygadas, a widower who was the 17th miner to be rescued, said of the planned service.
Another rescued worker, Jose Henriquez, the group's prayer leader who asked for 33 bibles to be sent down while they awaited rescue, became the first to go back and visit the mine on Saturday.
He said he wanted to get to know the area near the mine known as "Camp Hope," where family members gathered to pray and await news about their husbands, sons and fathers.
"I came to look in my locker to make sure I didn't leave anything behind," he joked.
Ending what many felt was a spiritual mission, families of the miners Thursday packed up the tents they had lived in for the previous two months and prepared for life outside the intense fellowship that the camp provided.
They descended on the barren land around the San Jose mine after it collapsed on Aug. 5, fearful that all the miners were dead but refusing to give up. Many of the relatives are deeply religious and some prayed almost around the clock.
A poll conducted late last week by La Tercera newspaper and published on Sunday said that 84 percent of Chileans approved the handling of the mine crisis by President Sebastian Pinera.
The conservative leader visited the mine several times during the two months that 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. Surveys taken before the rescue had placed Mr. Pinera's popularity in the 50s.
The miners are not saying much so far about what it was really like after the cave-in that left them huddled together in a humid cavern. Some of them are talking about saving their stories for a book about those 69 hellish days.
Publishing experts say a book by the miners could be quite profitable.
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 2-1/2 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 one by one Wednesday in a metal capsule little wider than a man's shoulders and dubbed "Phoenix" after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes.
Miner Mario Gomez, who at 63 was the oldest of the rescued workers, told local television that he emerged from the experience with some advice for his grandchildren.
"Never go into a mine," he said. "Study a profession."
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