A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been returned to Argentina nearly four decades after invading troops carried it with them to the Falkland Islands.
Forces Bishop Paul Mason handed over the replica of Our Lady of Luján to Bishop Santiago Olivera of the Military Ordinariate of Argentina following a request from Argentine war veterans to give it back.
In return, the bishop was given another replica of Our Lady of Luján, Patroness of Argentina and of the Argentine army, by Bishop Olivera.
Pope Francis, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, oversaw the exchange and blessed both statues. He was visibly moved by a plaque honouring the war dead of Argentina presented to him during the ceremony after his general audience and appeared to wipe away tears.
Argentine troops brought the statue of Our Lady of Luján with them for protection when they invaded the Falklands in April 1982.
They kept it in a Port Stanley church. But after the garrison surrendered on June 14, 1982, it was flown to England and put in the Catholic Military Cathedral of Ss Michael and George in Aldershot, Hampshire, to serve as a focus of prayer for the 255 British and 649 Argentine servicemen who died in the 10-week conflict.
Bishop Mason said both replicas would now be used to encourage the faithful to pray for the war dead. He said: “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.”
The original statue, which remains in Luján, was brought to Argentina from Brazil in 1630 by a settler seeking to reinvigorate the Catholic faith in the region of Santiago del Estero.
According to tradition, the statue, a representation of the Immaculate Conception, was housed in the Luján region after an ox refused to carry it to its intended destination.