On Wednesday, Israel will welcome 31 of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 68 days last fall.

The miners, accompanied by their wives and girlfriends, will be in the country for an eight-day pilgrimage, a tour that will include visits to Christian sites like Via Dolorosa, Capernaum, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and King David’s Tomb.

The Tourism Ministry sent a letter to the miners days after they were rescued, inviting them to visit as guests of the state.

“Your bravery and strength of spirit, and your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all,” Tourism Minister Stas Miseznikov wrote to them.

More than a billion people watched the miners’ rescue and joyous reunion with family members, making it one of the mostwatched television events ever.

In a segment on CBS’s 60 minutes that aired last week, however, many of the miners said they were still suffering daily from the traumatic experience of spending more than two months 800 meters below the surface. In the 16 days before search probes reached their chamber, when the miners were sustaining on no more than a teaspoon of tuna every 48 hours, they had considered cannibalism or mass suicide.

Despite the cheerful faces the miners have shown the world in a series of galas and award ceremonies, all but one of them have serious psychological problems, and most are on heavy medication.

Nineteen of the miners have said they lost their medical disability payments and are uncertain what the future will hold for them.

The trip also comes six weeks after the Chilean government announced its recognition of a Palestinian state, following in the footsteps of other South American countries. The Tourism Ministry said that the pilgrimage, which is expected to be heavily covered by foreign media, will give Israel a chance to present a different face to Latin America.


“The pilgrimage of the Chilean miners to the Holy Land will expose Christians and others around the world – not just Spanish- speakers – to Israel’s unique religious, historical and cultural sites,” said Pini Shani the director of the overseas department at the Tourism Ministry.

“I’m not sure it’s going to affect the Spanish language media’s perception of Israel in any way, but the survival of Chilean miners and their faith is such a huge story of human aspiration,” said Noga Tarnopolsky, the director of Punto Press, an organization that provides support services for Spanish language media in Israel. Punto is hosting a private reception for the media and the Chilean miners on Thursday night.

“The trip will give readers and viewers of Spanish language media an opportunity to see an aspect of Middle Eastern life that they don’t get to see,” she said.

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