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Rescued Chilean Miners Making Pilgrimage to the Holy Land This Week

The rescue of the miners in Chile galvanized the world as it was broadcast live on news networks last year, keeping viewers at the edge of their seats until all 33 men trapped underground for more than two months were lifted to freedom.

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera said at the time that the rescued miners experienced a "kind of rebirth."

Now, 31 out of the 33 miners will be experiencing a spiritual rebirth as they prepare to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, arriving Wednesday. Each one is coming with their spouse in what has been dubbed "The Pilgrimage of Thanks in the Holy Land."

"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. It would be a great honor for us to welcome you as our guests in the Holy Land," Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov wrote in an invitation to the miners to visit Israel.

The visit will include stops at the country's major Christian sites, including a baptism in the Jordan River. They are also slated to see the Dead Sea, Masada, Caesarea and Tel Aviv. The Regional Governor of Atacama and Chilean journalists will also take part in the tour. The miners will go to the Palestinian Territories, visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

This is not their first trip as a group. The miners and their rescuers went to Disneyland earlier this year. This is, however, a completely different experience, as they embark on a pilgrimage, visiting the holy sites in Israel, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The men had been trapped underground from Aug. 5 to Oct. 14 when a rockfall caused a tunnel to collapse.

Chile, with a population of 16,746,491, is comprised of Christians with 70 percent Roman Catholic and 15 percent Evangelical. Some 6,100 Chileans visited Israel last year, about a 40 percent increase over 2009. More than 116,000 tourists visited Israel from Central and South America in 2010, an increase of 53 percent over the previous year. According to Israel's Tourism Minister, Brazil is the main emerging market from Latin America for tourism to Israel with nearly 51,000 tourists visiting in 2010, 79 percent more than 2009.

This visit comes at a time when tensions between Israel and South American countries have escalated a bit. In January, Chile became one of several South American countries to recognize an independent state of Palestine, despite Israeli objections.

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