Chilean Miners Attend Mass At San Jose Mine

(AP)

About a dozen of the miners rescued in Chile returned to the San Jose mine Sunday for a private ecumenical service with friends and family.

The miners and their families made a pilgrimage to Camp Hope to sing and pray together, bringing some closure to what many believe was a miraculous event.

Omar Reygadas, the 17th miner to be rescued, said he came to see where his son kept a vigil while he was trapped underground.

"I have always said the true heroes are the families who stayed here and the faith that they had," he said in Spanish.

Many miners said their fight for survival brought them closer to God — and to the brink of despair.

"The worst for me was thinking I would never see my family again, that I would never hear them, touch them," Reygadas said. "And that I had no way of telling them that I was alive and OK down there."

Police officers kept reporters away from the tent set up for the thanksgiving service at Camp Hope.

A few protesters, laid-off miners from other operations run by the same company, also showed up at the scene to demand compensation from the owner of the mine. One held up a sign that read, "70 days without money and work, severance pay now, do not rob us."

More than 300 former co-workers of the miners who were trapped are out of work, and the owners of the San Jose mine have declared bankruptcy.

The 33 rescued miners, many of whom are poor, have been offered other jobs. The whole group wants to set up an institution or a commercial operation, said Juan Illanes, one of the first to be rescued, speaking for half dozen other miners at a news conference this weekend.

But the other miners fear they will lose pay they're entitled to if they take new jobs.

Chile's government has promised to help the rescued miners, and each has received about $12,000 in donations, but it remains unclear what other support.