Rome, Nov 1 2019: Britain has returned an Argentine statue of the Madonna captured during the Falklands conflict at an emotional ceremony in St Peter’s Square presided over by Pope Francis.
Bishop Paul Mason, Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic military chaplain, handed over the 14-inch statue of Our Lady of Lujan to his Argentine counterpart, Bishop Santiago Olivera on Oct 30 in a gesture of reconciliation 37 years after the conflict.
In return, Bishop Mason received a replica to take back to the Catholic Military Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Aldershot, where the statuette had been kept since the war and where prayers are offered for the fallen of both sides. The Pope, who was born in Argentina, blessed both original and replica.
The captured statue, itself a copy of a 1630 original held in the cathedral of Lujan near Buenos Aires, will return to Argentina on Nov 3 and there are plans for it to travel around the country for 18 months.
Bishop Olivera asked for the statue’s return after being alerted to its presence in Britain and in the hope that local people would be able to venerate it once again.
Bishop Mason was keen to help. “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,” he said.
During the handover in St Peter’s Square at the end of his weekly general audience, the Pope also blessed and kissed a gravestone for the tomb of an unknown Argentine soldier.
The Madonna statue had been taken to the Falkland Islands by an Argentine air force chaplain a week after the invasion. It was left behind in a church by retreating Argentine forces and brought back to Britain by Father Alfred Hayes.
Among those at the ceremony in St Peter’s Square were two Argentine veterans of the conflict and an Argentine military chaplain who had served on the islands.
source: The Times