Israel's Minister of Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov, sent a letter this week to the Chilean miners inviting them and their spouses to visit the Holy Land this Christmas.
"Your bravery and strength of spirit, your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all," he wrote. "It would be a great honor for us to welcome you as our guests in the Holy Land. This December, Christians around the world - and here in the Land of Jesus - will celebrate Christmas. During that time, we welcome tens of thousands of pilgrims and we would be pleased to offer you this uplifting and extraordinary experience, as our guests."
According to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, the weeklong tour will include guiding and visits to the most important Christian holy sites. While the specific itinerary is not yet planned, it is possible that Bethlehem, where the Church of the Nativity is located, and within the Palestinian Territories, will be on the roster of sites to be visited.
As a country Chile is very Christian, approximately 87% of the population, or almost 15 million people are of the Christian faith. According to interviews with many of the rescued men, that faith played a very important role in their survival. One relative was quoted as saying that the rescue was "A miracle from God." On one of the many videos of the rescue one miner upon exit from the capsule got on his knees and prayed and held up his arms. Another said "I met God. I met the devil. God won."
It is truly a blessing, a miracle, that these men survived. Each year on Hanukah, Jewish people worldwide celebrate the fact that a little bit of oil lasted 8 days and the words "Nes Gadol Haya Po" or a Great Miracle Happened Here - are visibly seen around this country. This year, however, a great miracle happened in Chile - and all of us here in Israel are very excited about the opportunity to celebrate this Christmas with these brave men and their families here in Israel and possibly in the Palestinian territories as well. We hope they will accept the invitation and travel here.