Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lessons from Copiapo

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the recent rescue of the 33 Chilean mineworkers trapped half a mile underground for 69 days. But if we stay at the level of simply awe at God for this "miracle", we will miss most of them.

When he comments on the story of the loaves and fishes in the gospel, liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez is careful to remind his listeners that the miracle is not about multiplication. The miracle is in the sharing which made God's gratuity possible. What if the owners of the five loaves and two fishes had been unwilling to part with their provisions?

A similar miracle occured under the Atacama desert where 33 men were able to stretch three days worth of emergency food to last 17 days until rescuers could figure out how to get additional food to them. They allowed themselves a ration of 2 teaspoons of tuna, a biscuit and 2 sips of milk every other day per person. No one succumbed to the very human temptation to steal more than his share to ward off what must have been terrible hunger pangs. Indeed, some reports have said that on the 17th day when more food got to the miners, they still had some leftover! If we took this lesson from Chile and applied it worldwide, we could eliminate hunger. Most experts on the subject have been telling us so for decades. There is no food shortage at the global level, only a shortage of moral vision and socioeconomic justice. As it is, the most recently released Global Hunger Index continues to show almost 1 billion chronically hungry people around the world.

The miners brought this same discipline and lack of selfishness to their final rescue. It has been reported that each wanted the others to go first. In the end, the order was determined based on practical considerations and everyone waited patiently until the last person was brought up to the surface. What a contrast to the "me first", self-centered culture in which we live! How many auto accidents could be avoided in the United States alone if all drivers would adopt the attitude of those Chilean miners? Jesus said it best: In My Kingdom, the last shall be first and the first, last.

We saw a number of miners fall to their knees and give thanks to God after being rescued. Others are giving thanks by reforming their lives. Esteban Rojas and Jessica Ganiez (photo) had been married civilly and have three children but they had never been married in the Church. They now plan to make their commitment forever before God. Claudio Yanez and Cristina Nunez, who had been living together for 11 years and have two daughters, also decided to tie the knot. The miners have also agreed to hire an accountant and share equally any money they make from their story. Do we have to wait until we escape with our lives to choose the path that leads to life?

Yes, we should thank God that the 33 Chilean miners are now safe and sound. We should give Him some glory. But we should also thank Him for the clarion call to solidarity and conversion that these men have sounded in this world that is being brought to the brink of ecological disaster by selfishness and materialism. That is the main lesson of Copiapo.

Photo: Esteban and Jessica share a moment of thanksgiving...with Our Lady of Guadalupe!

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