LEICESTER, United Kingdom –After 37 years, the statue of Our Lady of Luján used in the chapel for the Argentinian forces on the Falkland Islands, will be going home in an act of reconciliation that will be personally blessed by Pope Francis.
The image is currently housed in England’s Catholic Military Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Aldershot.
Argentina invaded the British-owned islands in the South Atlantic on April 2, 1982. Britain organized a task force and retook the islands after two months in a conflict that claimed the lives of 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers.
The statue of Our Lady of Luján was placed in St. Mary’s Church in the capital, Port Stanley, and was left in the Falklands when the Argentinian military evacuated. The statue was then taken to England, to serve as a focus of prayer for the fallen of both countries.
The image is a replica of the 16th century icon housed in Luján, about 40 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Our Lady of Luján is the patroness of Argentina, as well as the patroness for military chaplains.
Soon after being installed as the Bishop of the Forces in September 2018, Bishop Paul Mason was contacted by his Argentinian counterpart, Bishop Santiago Olivera, who requested the return of the statue.
“In mid-2018, a lay leader who was part of the Catholic group La Fe del Centurión, which conducts spiritual retreats for war veterans and family members in the Diocese of Quilmes, read a report about an English military doctor, who spoke about the image of Our Lady of Luján in the British military cathedral, and that was the first step. Once the origin of the image was confirmed, the process began for for her return,” Olivera told La Nacion, an Argentinian daily.
Olivera’s request was accompanied by an offer: He would provide a replica of the statue for Aldershot Cathedral, so the image could continue to be venerated for the intention of the fallen troops.
The two statues will be exchanged on Oct. 30 during a conference for military bishops taking place in Rome, after being blessed by Pope Francis.
Olivera had spoken to the Argentine pontiff about the statue during his ad limina visit to Rome in May.
“He asked us to wait for him to have a free moment in his schedule, because he wanted to bless the image personally,” Olivera told La Nacion.
“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,” Mason said.
The statue of Our Lady of Luján will arrive in Argentina on Nov. 3 and will be welcomed in a ceremony involving the armed forces and veterans of the 1982 conflict. The next day, the image will be present during the plenary assembly of the Argentinian bishops’ conference taking place in the city of Pilar.
Argentina asserted its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which they call the Malvinas, but in 1998 then-President Carlos Menem pledged to use only peaceful means to assert the country’s claims.
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