The statue of the Virgin of Luján, which was taken to England after the Falklands War, has been returned to Argentina, in a gesture from the British. The gesture, 37-years after the Falklands War, saw an exchange of the Virgin Mary, made on Wednesday in St Peter’s Square and was overseen by the Pope. Argentinian troops brought a statue of Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina, with them as they invaded the Falkland Islands, in April 1982.
But, when the military conflict finished, fewer than three months later in a victory for Britain’s Royal Navy, the statue, left in a church during the Argentine retreat, was taken to Great Britain.
The statue was placed in the Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Aldershot where it remained until this month.
Bishop Paul Mason of the UK Forces returned the statue on October 30 to Bishop Santiago Olivera of the Argentine Forces in St Peter’s Square, with the Pope overseeing the exchange.
In return, Bishop Olivera offered a replica statue to serve as its replacement in the Aldershot cathedral.
The statue was returned to Argentina
Bishop Olivera with the statue
We share a faith with people in Argentina
The image of the Virgin will return to Argentina on November 3 where it will be received with full honours by Armed Forces together with war veterans and family members of the soldiers who died during the war.
According to local news reports, Bishop Olivera said after the initiative of the war veterans, the image of the Lady of Lujan will become “a pilgrim image for our country” and will be toured across the whole of Argentina.
Olivera said: “We know we lost a lot in this war. But, with this gesture, we’re gaining a supernatural outlook, and the presence of the Virgin of Lujan invites us to once again do what her son tells us to do.”
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Bishop Paul Mason was gifted a replica of the statue
The bishop added: “It comes at a very particular moment for Argentina, in which we have to be reminded of the fact that we are brothers, that we can have different ideas, travel different paths, or chose different proposals, but we are always brothers and Mary invites us to this reality.
“We are a family and God is our homeland.”
Bishop Olivera told Rome Reports: “This image represents the surrenders, heart, suffering and joys of the men who were in the Falklands war.”
Bishop Mason also told Rome Reports: “We share a faith with people in Argentina.
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The exchange took place in St Peter’s Square
“In the cathedral in Aldershot, we have been praying for the people in Argentina and I am sure they have been praying for us as well. It has been a good way of coming together.”
Pope Francis blessed both of the statues and was moved by a plaque honouring those who died in the war. Over 900 people died in the Falklands War on both sides.
In a statement announcing the statue exchange Bishop Mason said: “It was an intriguing story that met me when first installed as Bishop of the Forces and I immediately realised what a good opportunity it was, not only to return the statue but also to demonstrate a united faith across two countries that have experienced political division.”
Argentinian soldier, Jorde Palacios, who hasn’t seen the statue in 37-years, talked of how the image protected him during the war.
Margaret Thatcher on the Falkland Islands
He told Rome Reports: “When I saw it again, tears of emotion rained down my face. For the protection, she gave us, particular me, during the Falklands War.”
The Falklands War took place in 1982 starting on April 2 and finished with Argentina surrendering on June 14.
But, the unity between the British and Argentine Catholics hasn’t been shared by the newly elected President Fernandez in Argentina, who has hinted at his desire to reclaim the islands.
Mr Fernandez suggested he wants to renew the claim of sovereignty of the Falkland Islands after winning elections comfortably last month.
Troops arriving during the Falklands War
The Argentine constitution, which was amended in 1994, rules out Buenos Aires taking the islands by force, as it reads: “The Argentine Nation ratifies its legitimate and non-prescribing sovereignty over the Malvinas, Georgias del Sur and Sandwich del Sur Islands and over the corresponding maritime and insular zones, as they are an integral part of the National territory.
“The recovery of said territories and the full exercise of sovereignty, respectful of the way of life of their inhabitants and according to the principles of international law, are a permanent and unrelinquished goal of the Argentine people.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega