José Henriquez the ‘Pastor’: The man who saved 33 trapped men from their own minds

by and

Their story gripped the world and united a nation for 76 days. So when the man who kept the 33 trapped Chilean miners’ spiritual torch burning came to Durham to recount his tale and preach about his inner spirituality, there were no surprises that José Henriquez, otherwise known as ‘The Pastor’, attracted substantial media attention.

Palatinate caught up with Mr. Henriquez and his wife in Durham Cathedral to talk about his ordeal in the mine, and life since coming back to the surface.

The 56 year-old miner who was the 24th to be saved from the murky depths spoke of his abounding Christian faith, which had guided him so closely through his 76-day separation from the outside world. During his entrapment, he acted as a biblical teacher, hosting prayer sessions and engendering spiritual hope. Set against the appropriate backdrop of Durham’s World Heritage Cathedral, Mr. Henriquez acknowledged the crucial role that Christian prayer had played in the team’s survival.

He proclaimed to Palatinate that ‘prayer is the oxygen of Christianity, and while we can pray, there is hope’.

Mr. Henriquez, a Pentecostal preacher, was undoubtedly a seminal figure for ‘los 33’. His preaching allowed 22 of the miners to convert themselves into believing Christians as he had led twice daily prayer sessions in which the miners ‘formed a prayer chain, holding hands and praying’.

After these sessions, the Pastor himself told Palatinate that he would ‘distribute prayer tasks to be completed during the day’. Not only did this provide the men with sorely needed distraction from their disastrous predicament, it also crucially gave them peaceful minds, fixated upon hope, not despair.

Mr. Henriquez, gave a vivid description of the chilling moment in which an explosive collapse trapped him in the chamber under 720 meters of robust rock.

‘I was in the shelter at the time of the explosion. There is no time to even think in a moment like that, one tends to just react, not think. I couldn’t see further than one meter in front of my face for the next 4 hours.’ On the moment when they realized that they were trapped, Mr.Henriquez was typically adamant: ‘I cried to God and he answered me urging me to call them together’.

On what must have been a difficult memory to recount, Mr. Henriquez spoke of the ‘devastating blow that we suffered when we realized that it was impossible to escape’.

However, the hardest step was yet to come. How would they begin to cope with the harsh conditions of the mine? How would they survive with only 3 days worth of food and 1 day’s worth of drinking water? And the most impending question of all, would they be rescued?

Faced with these mortal dilemmas, the most mentally robust of men could be forgiven to resorting to maddening despair. Not José Henriquez. On that fateful first day when he ‘slept on the seat of my machinery truck’, he confessed to Palatinate that he had ‘put himself in the hands of God’.

As the prayer leader of the group he managed to get non-believing Christians to ‘kneel down in the dirty mud and humble ourselves before God’. For Mr. Henriquez, the safe passage back to the outside world rested on their mutual faith in ‘the living God who answers prayer’.

However, it was the actual unearthing of the miners that Mr.Henriquez believes was the final proof of divine intervention. As many drilling operations skirted around the outside of the miners tiny chamber, José admitted to Palatinate that ‘we thought that they would give us up for dead’.

But, as yet another drill threatened to narrowly pass them by, it struck a rogue rock formation with such force that it was deflected into the chamber where the miners resided. On this apparently miraculous occurrence, Mr. Henriquez explained that ‘even unbelieving scientists said that it was a miracle that the drill bit hit a rock and deflected into our chamber’. For the ever-faithful Pastor, this was no miracle, but an act of God.

Since their miraculous rescue, the 33 miners have gone from the sheltered life of the small town of Copiacó in the Atacama Desert to global stardom, some attending football matches in private boxes at Old Trafford and others visiting Graceland, the renowned mansion of Elvis Presley.

However, José Henriquez’s new ‘rockstar’ status has only fuelled his overflowing spirituality. He humbly admitted to Palatinate that ‘I try and take it as simply as I can with humility. While this celebrity lasts I would like it to be a bridge to take the message of Jesus to the world’ Indeed, his newfound global recognition seems to have become a tool for his preaching, as ‘people all seem to know me, and so I am able to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them’.

Mr.Henriquez’s wife, Blanca said that thanks to her enduring faith she ‘had never doubted’ that her husband would return to the surface. During the 76-day ordeal, she told Palatinate that she had simply ‘got down on her knees praying, fasting and humbling myself before God’.

Showing his intrinsic humility, Mr. Henriquez reached out to those who had lost their lives within the Durham mining community over the years as he spoke to an engrossed congregation at Durham Cathedral. He pleaded that ‘God bless every one of you as you extend your good faith to others miners.’

The disaster’s tumultuous end has undoubtedly changed the face of Chile for years to come. Before the crisis many would have defined Chile in terms of Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian rule. Now, 33 miners stand for Chile’s finest hour. Of these 33, surely there is no better representative Mr. Henriquez, who embodies the enduring faith that allowed him and his compatriots to defy all the odds. As he moves on to no lesser venue than the White House to head the Presidential Prayer service, Durham should be proud to have hosted such a testament to the power of religious faith.

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