As reported in Israel21C: “It is amazing to be here, in this place,” say the men, who were invited on a Pilgrimage of Thanks following their 68-day ordeal trapped underground.
Along with their spouses or girlfriends, and a four-month-old infant who was baptized in the Jordan River, the miners enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to Israel at the invitation of the Israeli government.
The miners, who emerged safely from underground after the highly televised 68-day affair, expressed extreme gratitude for the Israeli show of generosity.
They met with such notables as Israeli President Shimon Peres and Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov. Peres told the men that Israel had been praying for their safe return, and as a small gesture gave them a golden globe of the city of Jerusalem.
Later, in a moment of spontaneity, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked to meet with the miners in his Jerusalem office on the day they were scheduled to leave Israel.
‘A very touching visit’
“Above the fun and excitement of coming to the country, they were also given a lot of respect,” says Pinchas Shani, director of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism’s Overseas Department, who organized the tour and accompanied the group at various stops on their trip.
“It was a very touching visit with many emotions expressed — positive emotions, I think,” he tells ISRAEL21c not long after the group had departed. “The miners knew they were coming to the Holy Land but it really struck them how strong the spiritual experience could be — at the Jordan River baptismal for instance — and how close one can get to their faith when one is physically in those places.”
Deeply religious Catholics, the miners’ families had kept a vigil during their ordeal, and even the Pope had sent them blessed rosaries. In Israel, the miners were treated to a pilgrim’s dream tour, including Nazareth, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
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