After more than 66 days 1,000 feet below ground, the 33 Chilean miners and their families wait for a drill to finish sculpting a rescue shaft through the last layers of rock.
PHILADELPHIA – There was a long line of people waiting to take a picture with Jose Henriquez at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center Thursday night. People were shuffled in and out, assembly line style, so everyone could take a turn. Elderly women, young ladies in heels so high one tripped downstairs – and even little kids wanted a photo with him and some Chilean flags after a screening of “The 33.”
Henriquez is one of Los 33, the group of Chilean miners who were trapped 2,300 feet underground for 69 days in 2010. A Pentecostal Christian for most of his life, Henriquez would often sit in the center of a semicircle of men, and lead them all in prayer. This was a role he assumed naturally, as someone who had experience with street preaching in his life pre-disaster. He eventually won the nickname El Pastor. “We had a captive church,” he told the audience Thursday night after the screening, to laughter.
The screening, held by La Esperanza, a religious nonprofit in Philadelphia whose mission is to “strengthen Hispanic communities,” was attended by almost 260 people. It was an audience comprised of Latino clergy, university presidents, political leaders and high school and college students.
Gladys Gordon, a Chilean chancellor for the local consulate, was in attendance. At the reception before the screening, bartenders served big glasses of Chilean wine.
The screening and Q and A that followed was not Jose Henriquez’s first rodeo. He’s been traveling for five years speaking about the horrifying ordeal in the Copiapo mine. Philadelphia was his last stop on a multi-city tour that included church visits in Los Angeles and screenings in Dallas and Miami. For part of the tour, he was joined by another miner, Ariel Ticona, as well as Greg Hall, a driller who worked on mine rescue efforts back in 2010.
The miners were excited to see the book, called “Deep Dark Down,” finally near its release date as a major motion picture. All 33 miners gave extensive testimony to the filmmaker, Henriquez said. He told the audience that he and his fellow miners were hoping they could receive compensation from some the film’s profits.
Some audience members were also deeply concerned to discover that the company that owned the mine was not found at fault by the Chilean government, and was not required to pay miners a settlement. Henriquez told the audience that while he and the other 32 men “were not blessed” to work for the owners of the mine, one positive from the film and the accident is that it is creating awareness about how dangerous mining can be. The ultimate hope is to strengthen worker protections.
Henriquez is one of the fourteen older miners who received a small pension from the government, but he said, at around $500 a month “it can’t support a family.” Many of the miners have health problems. Henriquez himself has issues with his lungs. Other miners have had a hard time finding work, and some have returned to below-ground work once again.
People in the audience were overwhelmingly moved by Henriquez’s testimony, as well as his portrayal in the film. A 14-year-old named Jordan who is mulling a career in the ministry found Henriquez’s character the most moving. “Definitely someone who I could look up to really highly,” he said.
Widilia Ortiz, an older woman from Camden said, “I think he was a key person in what happened to them. He gave them the hope to survive,” adding that Henriquez gave the men something to live for. “God put him in there to give them the support that they needed spiritually.”
“For me it was amazing as a man of God to hear what he was saying about what was going on down there...Where there was supposed to be no hope, in the darkness of that place, there was hope,” Hector Villaveitia, a Bible teacher at Esperanza high school said, “At some point in our travel through life, we lose faith. But we need to receive or look for that hope, within us.”
For many of the men in the mine, Henriquez provided that.
Anne Hoffman is a Philadelphia journalist and storytelling teacher. Follow her at @AnneReports.
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