Chilean miners return to site for service

About a dozen of the miners rescued in Chile returned to the San Jose mine Sunday for a private ecumenical service with friends and family

Many said fight for survival brought them closer to God

Rescued miner Omar Reygadas, centre, gestures at the end of a service at the San Jose mine on Sunday. ((Jorge Saenz/Associated Press) )
About a dozen of the miners rescued in Chile returned to the San Jose mine Sunday for a private ecumenical service with friends and family.

The miners and their families made a pilgrimage to Camp Hope to sing and pray together, bringing some closure to what many believe was a miraculous event.

Omar Reygadas, the 17th miner to be rescued, said he came to see where his son kept a vigil while he was trapped underground.

"I have always said the true heroes are the families who stayed here and the faith that they had," he said in Spanish.

Many miners said their fight for survival brought them closer to God — and to the brink of despair. 

"The worst for me was thinking I would never see my family again, that I would never hear them, touch them," Reygadas said.  "And that I had no way of telling them that I was alive and OK down there."

Police officers kept reporters away from the tent set up for the thanksgiving service at Camp Hope.

A few protesters, laid-off miners from other operations run by the same company, also showed up at the scene to demand compensation from the owner of the mine. One held up a sign that read, "70 days without money and work, severance pay now, do not rob us."

More than 300 former co-workers of the miners who were trapped are out of work, and the owners of the San Jose mine have declared bankruptcy.

The 33 rescued miners, many of whom are poor, have been offered other jobs. The whole group wants to set up an institution or a commercial operation, said Juan Illanes, one of the first to be rescued, speaking for half dozen other miners at a news conference this weekend.

But the other miners fear they will lose pay they're entitled to if they take new jobs.

Chile's government has promised to help the rescued miners, and each has received about $12,000 in donations, but it remains unclear what other support they may be offered.

There have been promises of book and movie deals, but most of the rescued miners live hard lives in rough homes, often in gang-ridden neighbourhoods.

Miners ask for privacy

On Saturday, some miners seeking privacy complained of intrusions by the media.

At a news conference, six other miners surrounded Juan Illanes, among the oldest of the 33, as he spoke about the glare of attention and asked journalists to give them some space.

He said none of the miners will discuss the first 17 days they were trapped. Illanes said this period — before a bore hole large enough to send them food, water and medicine was drilled — will remain a "state secret."

Details will come out in a book that could be published by the end of the year, he said.

Most of the miners headed home over the weekend from the hospital where they were taken after being pulled through a narrow, 622-metre-deep shaft to the surface in a rescue broadcast live around the world.

Chilean president to visit Britain

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera says he will give the British prime minister a rock taken from the San Jose mine when the two men meet Monday.

In London on Sunday, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera displays the message that told rescuers above ground that 33 miners were alive inside the San Jose mine. ((Lewis Whyld/Press Association/Associated Press))

Pinera said the gift for David Cameron is a tribute to the "courage, faith and hope" displayed during efforts to free the miners, who were trapped underground for more than two months before their rescue last week.

Pinera, who arrived in Britain on Saturday night, will also see Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace during his first official visit to a foreign country since the miners were safely hoisted from the collapsed gold and copper mine near Copiapo in northern Chile on Wednesday.

Pinera visited the mine several times during the 69 days the workers were trapped and he was present during the 23 hours when they were pulled one by one to the surface.

On Sunday, Pinera went below the streets of London to visit the bunker under the treasury building, where Winston Churchill led the fight against Nazi Germany.

The underground shelter is open to the public as the Cabinet War Rooms museum.

With files from The Associated Press