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British and Argentinian military chaplains exchange statues 37 years after Falklands War

By Cian Molloy - 17 November, 2019

Thirty-seven years after the end of the Falklands War an unusual military trophy has been returned to the Argentinean

The exchange of statues of Our Lady of Lujan in Rome last week (Pic BCEW).

Army: a statue of Our Lady of Lujan.

The statue of the Patroness of Argentina had travelled with Argentinean troops when they invaded the Falklands, also known as the Malvinas Islands, in April 1982, and the religious object was placed in the Port Stanley’s main church.

When Britain resumed control of the island 10 weeks later, following a conflict that resulted in the death of more than 900 servicemen and three islanders, the statue was seized and taken back to England where it was eventually put on display in the Catholic Military Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Aldershot.

It is believed that the porcelain statue was almost destroyed before it left the South Atlantic while it was being loaded on the back of a Hercules transport aircraft that was also carrying many heavy items of luggage. Chaplain Fr Alf Hayes spotted the statue being loaded into the plane and ensured it was placed on top of the pile of kit being transported back to England. “If I hadn’t been there, it would have been smashed to bits,” he said.

On Wednesday 30 October in Rome, the UK’s Catholic Bishop of the Forces, Paul Mason, handed over the statue to his Argentinian counterpart, Bishop Santiago Olivera, who presented a replica of the figure in return.

In fact, the statue that Bishop Mason had brought from England was also a copy of the original, which is located in the Basilica of Luján in Argentina. The statue dates back to the 1630s and was blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II who visited the Buenos Ares province in 1982. Our Lady of Luján was declared as the Patroness of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay Pope Pius XI in 1930.

The exchange took place in Rome at Pope Francis’ General Audience in St Peter’s Square. The Argentine pontiff met both bishops and blessed the two statues.

Shortly after he was installed Bishop of the Forces in September last year, Bishop Mason was contacted by Bishop Olivera, who asked if the statue could be returned, given that a group of faithful with a devotion to Our Lady of Luján were eager for this to happen. The offer of a replica for the Cathedral in Aldershot was gratefully accepted.

Bishop Paul Mason said: “At both of the respective Military Cathedrals the congregations have been asked to pray for each other and for peace. The statues will serve as an ongoing reminder to pray for all of those who fell in the Falklands War, while also giving us a symbol of unity in faith and an aid to our prayers for peace.”

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