God on the Mountain All passengers of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 were Catholic, and religion was ever-present during their 72-day ordeal. A common claim of the survivors was that the God they encountered on the mountain was not the God they learned about in Sunday school. More akin to Rudolf Otto’s mysteriumtremendum et facinans -- great and terrible mystery, wholly other, frightful, yet irresistably attractive.
God on the Mountain • Interview with CarlitosPaez, Oct. 2002:- The God you met there [on the mountain] was the same you believed in or saw at the mass?- No. It was a different God. At school we had the image of an old bearded God who was walking through the clouds and all the other things…There we met a God who was closer to the indifference of material things, to the humility, to the fact of not having anything. The more stripped we are of material things, the better we get the figure of God. • Interview with Roberto Canessa January 2002 Was there any change on your religious beliefs after the accident? - Well, I think there are two types of Gods, one which is shown to you at the School, sitting in heaven and sending rays to the people who are on earth, and another one who is the one we knew in the Andes, we practically lived with him and we asked him [to] help constantly. You get closer to the idea of the death and you think you are just passing through life, and that life is an accident in which the only real thing is that you’re going to die. With those parameters we learnt not to care about our possibility of dying because we were in peace with both our souls and God. In that constant talking with God we begged him the salvation to be difficult but not impossible. You were there and saw a friend dead, a friend who ten minutes earlier was alive.
Marcelo’s God: The God who died on the Mountain • Parrado p. 111: “For Marcelo, the world was an orderly place, watched over by a wise and loving God who had promised to protect us. It was our job to follow his commandments, to take the sacraments, to love God and love others and Jesus had taught us.” … • P. 77: “Marcelo, a deeply devout Catholic, began to rely more and more on the beliefs that had always shaped his life. “God loves us,” he would say. “ He would not ask us to endure such suffering only to turn his back on us and allow us to die meaningless deaths.” • P. 111-2 “He [Marcelo] had been broken not because he was weak, but because he was too strong. … his confidence, his decisiveness, his unshakable faith in his own beliefs and decisions … now prevented him from adjusting … and finding a new balance. …in this awful place, too much certainty could kill … ordinary civilized thinking could cost us our lives.”
Miracles? • P. 52: Parrado describes first of the “miracles” • After losing its wings, the Fairchild did not wobble or spiral, clearing another ridge. • Fairchild’s angle of decent matched slope of mountain – toboggan effect. • Parrado’s dilemma: If God is given credit for “saving” them with these “miracles” then why did he not just prevent the crash in first place? Why let so many die in the crash itself? Should he not be equally blamed for the crash and all who died in it including his friend, mother, and sister?
Miracles? Working hard for miracles Parrado and Canessa went the wrong way (Hotel 5 miles east of Fairchild) The river made it nearly impossible to communicate with Catalan – “Tomorrow.” Notes on rocks! The helicopter rescue was itself nearly a disaster Not all could be rescued the first day, half had to wait another night.
God and science • For the survivors it was never God vs. science (in the sense of using their own efforts, ingenuity, reasoning, etc.). It was always God and science. Ritual and faith were always combined with endurance, hard work and inventiveness. • Gustavo Nicolich’s announcement when they hear news that the search has been called off: “I have great news. They have canceled the search. That means we’re getting out of here ourselves. (note: Nicolich died in the avalanche on Oct. 29). • The inventors: • Canessa’s hammocks for injured, seat cover blankets • FitoStrauch’s water-making device; snowshoes, sunglasses
The nature of your God: Dialogue Parrado and Arturo Nogueira • Parrado describes Nogueira (p. 83-84) as a passionate socialist, prickly with strong opinions, often at odds with the others, views on religion were unconventional, but he was very spiritual. • NP: What good is God to us? Why would he let my mother and sister die so senselessly? If he loves us so much why does he leave us here to suffer? • AN: You are angry at the God you were taught to believe in as a child…. This God is just a story. … God is beyond religion. The true God lies beyond our comprehension. … I don’t pray to God for forgiveness or favors, I only pray to be closer to Him. … when I pray this way I know that God is love. • NP: I have so many doubts. I feel I have earned the right to doubt. • AN: Trust your doubts. If you have the [guts] to doubt God … to question all … you have been taught, then you may find God for real. He is close to us, Nando. I feel him all around us. Open your eyes and you will see Him too. • Arturo Nogueira died of his injuries on Nov. 15.
God in nature • A recurrent theme among the survivors (and others) was how moved they were by the power, majesty, beauty, and indifference of the mountain. The mountain, many felt, was a reflection of the Creator. • Interview with Canessa (Jan. 2002) • Do you think that this experience led you to an approach to nature?- Yes, totally. …The nights at the mountain, in spite of the cold, were an incredible spectacle; seeing the moon reflected on the snow. I will never forget that! • Pancho Delgado’s speech at Stella Maris Dec. 28 1972: “The silence in the Cordillera is majestic, sensational. It is something frightening to feel alone in the world… and I can assure you that God is there.” ParradoP. 202-3: “That evening … the Andes blazed with the most spectacular sunset I had ever seen. … It occurred to me that Roberto and I were the probably the first human beings to have such a vantage point on this majestic display. I felt an involuntary sense of privilege and gratitude … “Roberto,” I said, “can you imagine how beautiful this would be if we weren’t dead men?”
God in the suffering • Nightly the rosary was prayed, usually led by Carlitos. Shortly before he died, Nogueira requested to lead. So passionate was his prayer that he wept by the end. Why are you weeping? He was asked. “Because I am so close to God,” he replied (Alive p. 162). • As their strength failed them on the final expedition, Parrado and Canessa increasingly turned to rhythmic prayer, each painful step was another word of the Lord’s prayer. (Alive p. 281) • Canessa engaged in continuous dialogue with God (a la Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof), “You can make it tough God, but don’t make it impossible.” (Alive p. 278). • Many saw their suffering as a purification, similar to Christ’s forty days in desert. “I used to be so spoiled. Being up here makes one realize how dreadful one was before,” [Alvaro] Mangino (Alive, p. 193).
God in the ritual • Every night Carlitos led them in the rosary. “Especially when the prayed together at night, the felt an almost mystical solidarity, not only among themselves but with God. They had called to him in their need and now they felt him close at hand.” (Alive p. 193). They were the “poor banished children of eve” trapped in the “vale of tears” (p. 176). What was your spiritual support, CarlitosPaez was asked years later. “I clung to the rosary,” he answered. One night ground began to rumble beneath them raising fears of another avalanche. FitoStrauch had always regarded nightly rosary as good mental relaxation, with little supernatural implications. As the ground rumbled, the others thrust the rosary into his hands an ordered him to lead the prayers. The skeptic’s prayers were answered, the rumbling stopped P. 176
God in the survival • Premonitions? • Dec. 21 the day Parrado and Canessa are taken in by Catalan. • Back at the plane CaritosPaez tells FitoStrauch he has strong feeling the Parrado and Canessa have made it. They agree no mention of this should be made to others so as not to raise false hopes. • After rosary that evening Daniel Fernandez announces to the group that he has “strong feeling” the expediationaries have been successful. We’ll be rescued, he says, tomorrow or the day after. • The next morning they hear on the radio that two survivors of the Andes crash have been found.
God in the survival • Varying views of God’s role in their survival (Summarized in Alive p. 388-9): • Inciarte, Mangino, Methol: A miracle • Delgado: Survival on the mountain was by the hand of God – Parrado and Canessa’s expedition was their own courage • Canessa, Paez, Sebella, Harley, Zerbino: God was always with them, helping them survive • “Cousins”, Vizintin: Survived by their own efforts, prayer gave them strength, unity, and sanity
Transformations: Pedro Algorta • Note: All survivors claimed to have been transformed by the experience (a deeper appreciation for life, less concern for material things, more dedication to family, religion, etc.) • A few particular examples, however, are interesting: • Described as one of the more “earnestly religious” among the passengers. • Product of the Jesuit schools, not the Christian Brothers. • God is love, yet no angels came to save them. God was still love, but God was not enough. • Less religious, more belief in man
Transformations: FitoStrauch • In Alive (1972), Strauch is portrayed as one of the less religious, more skeptical of the group. • Fito and Algorta – philosophical discussions of God, neither accepted the view of a “personal” God who intervened in people’s destinies (p. 174). • Viewed nightly rosary as a “sleeping pill” to take their minds off their suffering. • After their rescue he viewed their survival as mostly due to their own efforts, little direct help from God. (note however: The discussion between Fr. Rodriguez and Zerbino and FitoStrauch went on until 5am.) • In Miracle (2006), Parrado describes his disagreements with Fito over the role of God in their survival (p. 276) “Fito firmly believes that it was God’s personal intervention on the mountain that saved us, and we should live our lives as His messengers. Sometimes I feel that Fito is unhappy with me … that I have minimized or even dismissed God’s role in our rescue. … Fito and I will probably never see eye to eye on this issue, but … this does not diminish the respect and friendship I feel for him, and when we meet we always embrace like brothers.”
Transformations: NandoParrado • Before: nominal Catholic (tells us that his father was not particularly religious) • Struggles with the problem of evil or needless suffering • P. 262-263: “Many of my fellow survivors say that they felt the personal presence of God in the mountains. … I deeply respect the faith of my friends, but … I never felt the personal presence of God. … I did feel something larger than myself, something in the mountains and the glaciers and the glowing sky, that, in rare moments, reassured me … that world was orderly and loving and good. … I don’t pretend to understand what it is or what it wants from me. … I have no interest in any God who can be understood. How can I make sense of a God … who sends sixteen young men home and leaves twenty-nine others dead on a mountain? … Now I understand that to be certain – about God, about anything – is impossible. • For Parrado love is great power in the world: p. 261: “In the mountain … Death had shown its face … But then I saw that there was something in the world that was not death, something just as awesome and enduring and profound. There was love, … as I felt this love swell … death lost its power. I stopped running from death … I made every step toward love, and that saved me. “
The final ritual • Jan 18 1973, members of the Chilean Andean Rescue, a Uruguayan Air Force Officer, and a Catholic priest returned to crash site. • Remains were gathered and buried in a sheltered site about half mile from the fuselage of Fairchild. • A rough altar was erected, a iron cross mounted on it. A funeral Mass was said • The cross bears the inscription “The world to its Uruguayan Brothers” “Nearer O God to thee”