Pope Francis will receive the Bishops of the Forces from both the UK and Argentina in Rome, where they will exchange a statue of Our Lady of Luján which was brought to the UK at the end of the Falklands War. The original statue of the Virgin Mary, Patroness of Argentina, will be returned to Argentina, A replica made by the Argentinians, will be presented to the Catholic Military Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Aldershot.
When the Argentinian troops invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982, they brought with them the statue, a copy of the 1630 original, which sits in the Basilica of Lujan in Argentina. Great devotion is shown to Our Lady of Luján who was formally declared as the Patroness of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay on 8 September 1930 by Pope Pius XI. Pope John Paul II visited the original statue in Luján in 1982 and bestowed upon her the Golden Rose.
Occupying the church in Port Stanley until the Task Force arrived, the statue was left behind when the invading force was repelled. It was then packed up on a military transport to the UK and found a home at the Catholic Military Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Aldershot. It has stayed there since as a focus for prayer offered for the fallen of both sides.
Soon after his installation as Bishop of the Forces, Bishop Paul Mason was contacted by his Argentinian counterpart Bishop for the Forces Bishop Santiago Olivera, who asked if the statue could be returned, given that a group of faithful with a devotion to Our Lady of Lujan was eager to see her return. The offer of a replica for the Aldershot Cathedral was also made, which Bishop Paul gratefully accepted.
Pope Francis will receive both bishops and both statues in St Peter’s Square in Rome on Wednesday 30th October, following the Annual Meeting of Military Bishops in Rome.
Bishop Paul Mason said ”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. I met Bishop Santiago so we could discuss the return of the statue and I look forward to meeting him again in Rome in October for the exchange when the Holy Father will bless both statues.”