Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 23, 2002
God and man bond to create miracles
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Miracles are always worth retelling. This one began on Wednesday, July 24, 2002. Eighteen men on the night shift at the Quecreek Coal Mine had just a couple of hours before quitting time when a "continuous miner" machine bit through a wall that was supposed to be hundreds of metres thick.
But it wasn't. 681 million litres of water swept into the tunnel from an abandoned mine. Miner Dennis Hall immediately rushed to the phone and shouted "Get out!" to the nine working in a lower section. They did. But Hall and the other eight men on his crew were trapped 60 metres underground by the rising water. There in the darkness, they would struggle to survive for the next three days. And for three days, their neighbours and the world watched and waited with them.
Above ground, furious rescue attempts began. A narrow shaft to supply hot air to warm the trapped miners was quickly driven down while an enormous bit churned away at a shaft wide enough to rescue the men.
The miners stood or crouched, walked or swam. They snuggled for warmth and even tried to hold back the water with cinder blocks and canvas. They talked and they were silent. But always, they stuck together - and they prayed.
What they couldn't know was that people around the country and the world, as well as their own friends and family were praying them for. Those family members gathered in a local fire hall to support each other heard Governor Mark Schweiker read from the Psalms: "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble."
Harry Blaine Mayhugh, Jr., at 31 the youngest miner, later said, "Everybody had strong moments. At a certain time maybe one guy got down and the rest pulled together and then that guy would get back up and maybe someone else would feel a little weaker. It was a team effort. That's the only way it could have been."
Team effort was also practiced by their rescuers, whose planning and persistence eventually brought all nine out of the flood waters in the pitch black mine into the flood lights illuminating an Appalachian night.
The media gave intense coverage to the rescue efforts, but while it was unfolding, I think that very few of us believed it could end as happily as it did. I was one of the many people who read the accounts, fascinated by the frightening, yet hopeful and ultimately triumphant tale.
A few days later, in a letter to The New York Times, a reader in Toronto, Canada, summed up much of my own reaction: "Those who understand the dangers that all miners face realize the miracle that has taken place in the rescue of the nine trapped men in Pennsylvania, but in the bigger picture these men represent all that is great in the spirituality of mankind. The love, faith and hope that was Pope John Paul's message in his World Youth pilgrimage have now been witnessed firsthand in the rescue effort to free these trapped miners and return them to their loved ones. This demonstration of the human spirit can give us all the strength to draw upon when our hopes for this world seem dim and at low ebb. It bears witness to the intrinsic goodness of mankind."
And that's the real miracle, because God performs so many miracles every day with our help, our cooperation. The intrinsic goodness of people is a reflection of God's own goodness. When Dennis Hall was asked why he had risked his life to stop and warn the nine other miners to get out, he answered simply, "I had to. I had to. I had to."
So many play a part in making a miracle. Thank God.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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