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 CNS Story:

CHILE-PRENGAMAN Oct-25-2010 (570 words) With photo posted Oct. 22. xxxi

Catholic AP reporter says Chilean miners' families kept faith in God

Peter Prengaman (CNS/AP)

By Barb Fraze
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A reporter who covered the Chilean mine rescue for The Associated Press said the miners' families always believed their loved ones were alive, and that belief was based on faith.

"Many of these families had faith when much of the rest of Chile probably didn't, from the Aug. 5 collapse until authorities discovered (the miners) were alive on Aug. 23," said the reporter, Peter Prengaman, 35, a member of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Atlanta.

Prengaman traveled to Copiapo, Chile, in late August and early September, then returned again to cover the October rescue. In an e-mail interview with Catholic News Service, he said family members often spoke of their faith and "of a belief that they would see their loved ones again."

"The Catholic presence, and faith in general, was everywhere," he told CNS. "The family members wore crosses and had religious altars dedicated to their trapped family members. They prayed constantly, and attended Masses that were given at the mine on Sundays."

Prengaman said he had more of a chance to get to know the miners' families when he went to Copiapo in August, before the media descended on the town for the rescue.

In the summer, "you could actually sit down around a campfire, drink tea and shoot the bull," he said, adding that "getting to know the families was enriching."

"These are mining families that live with the reality that their loved ones could be killed or injured," he said. They had "a very salt-of-the-earth quality about them. They were patient, open to letting reporters into their lives, and had a deep faith in God."

In October, when he returned, "there must have been like 50 reporters for each family member, which made it tough to get in-depth interviews with people," he said.

Prengaman currently works as AP's interactive editor for the South, overseeing interactive, graphic and video content for 13 states. He said he was a natural choice for the New York editors to send to Chile, because he had lived and studied in Chile in 2001-2002 and married a Chilean. He worked as AP's Caribbean correspondent, 2003-2005, and has traveled extensively.

Part of his experience traveling was gained in 1998-1999, when he was editor of El Centinela, the Spanish edition of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore. Besides covering stories such as the Latino communities, he traveled to places such as Ecuador and Mexico to write about work being done by Oregon missionaries. In addition to numerous other awards he has won over the years, he won awards for mission reporting in English and Spanish as well as Catholic Press Association awards for Spanish writing, best column, news and features.

"Covering the rescue was a sort of magical, mystical experience that I will never forget," Prengaman said. He added that he often prayed during the ordeal, but he prayed privately, because "faith is a deeply personal thing."

"Probably the most spiritual (event) for me was seeing the rescuer get out of the capsule underground and get mobbed by jubilant miners," he said. "Why was it spiritual? Because for more than two months, the miners, their families, Chile and many people in the world were waiting and praying for that moment. So to see it happen, and know it was then just a question of time until all 33 were saved, was really moving."


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