Bishop Paul Mason of the military diocese of England and Wales is pictured in an undated photo with a replica of Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina and the Argentine army. Mason has agreed to personally return the statue to Bishop Santiago Olivera of the Military Ordinariate of Argentina. CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Communications Network of England and Wales

Argentine vets’ statue returned — with Pope’s blessing

By  Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service
  • September 25, 2019

MANCHESTER, England -- After a request from Argentine veterans of the Falklands War, a British bishop will return a replica of Our Lady of Lujan that was taken to Britain as a spoils of war almost four decades ago.

In exchange, he will receive a second replica of the statue. Pope Francis, an Argentine with a strong devotion to Our Lady of Lujan, will bless both of the statues during the exchange at the Vatican Oct. 30.

The replica of Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina and the Argentine army, was installed in a church in Port Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands, when Argentine troops invaded the British South Atlantic territory in April 1982.

The statue was subsequently taken to England after the Argentine garrison in Port Stanley surrendered to British forces. It was placed in the Catholic Military Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Aldershot, the largest army camp in England, as a focus of prayer for the British and Argentine casualties of the 10-week Falkland conflict.

In 2018, a group of Argentine Falklands War veterans requested the return of the statue, and Bishop Paul Mason, military bishop of England and Wales, has agreed to personally hand it over to Bishop Santiago Olivera of the Military Ordinariate of Argentina.

In a Sept. 24 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Mason said Olivera approached him last year on behalf of the veterans and requested the statue’s return.

“We have not enjoyed the best relationships with Argentina,” Mason said. “It is surprising how a gesture, or something symbolic, can be quite powerful. We are very keen to make the most of that.”

Mason said: “We have two countries which are pretty much, and are in many ways, politically divided, and this is one of those ways in which there can be a sort of outreach, the sharing of a common faith across a vast distance ... I am very much looking forward to it.”

Pope Francis, he said, was keen to be involved in the transfer of the statue, which will take place during a general audience.

The statue is a representation of the Immaculate Conception. The original, which remains in Lujan, Argentina, was taken to Argentina from Brazil in 1630 by a settler seeking to reinvigorate the Catholic faith in the province of Santiago del Estero.

According to tradition, the statue was housed in the Lujan region after an ox refused to carry it to its intended destination.

For many years, it was cared for by a slave known as “El Negro Manuel,” a statue of whom is kept by Pope Francis in his apartment in the Vatican.

Pope Pius XI formally declared Our Lady of Lujan patroness of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, Sept. 8, 1930.

The Falkland Islands have been a British territory since 1833, but Argentina has expressed a long-standing claim over sovereignty.

The conflict broke out after the Argentine military junta of Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri ordered an invasion. Sovereignty over the islands continues to be disputed.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.