Originally taken during the Falklands War, UK bishops returned an icon of Our Lady of Luján, receiving in turn a replica from Argentina’s bishops.
Our Lady of Luján is an icon of the Virgin Mary venerated since the early 1600s, a patroness of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Pious tradition holds a settler had the terra-cotta image of the Immaculate Conception made in Brazil to help reinvigorate the Faith in his hometown near northern Argentina.
The caravan carrying the statue embarked from Buenos Aires and stopped about 30 miles outside the city. When they went to resume their travels, the oxen refused to move. When they removed the crate containing the icon, the oxen once again began to move.
They took this as a sign of a miracle, that the Virgin Mary wished to remain there. A primitive chapel was constructed for her veneration for nearly 40 years until the icon was transported to nearby Luján.
Argentinian soldiers brought a replica of the icon with them when they invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982. However, when they abandoned the islands, they also abandoned the icon, which was taken back by the British and placed in the Catholic Military Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Aldershot.
Yesterday, the icon was returned to Argentina’s military Bishop Gustavo Olivera to Britain’s military Bishop Paul James Mason during a meeting with Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square. Olivera said upon receiving the statue:
“The gesture by the church of the United Kingdom to return the image of Our Lady of Lujan to Argentina is a sign of fraternity. It’s a sign that began when at the end of the war, Britain’s military chaplain Father Alfred Height requested from the apostolic administrator of the islands permission to take the image of the Virgin to the military cathedral of Great Britain, to pray for the British and Argentine soldiers who had fallen during the war.”
Mason said he “immediately realized 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.”
Olivera in turn gave to Mason a replica icon of Our Lady of Luján, which were both blessed by Pope Francis. Wiping apparent tears from his eyes, he then kissed a stone plaque honoring those who died in the war from the Darwin war cemetery in the Falklands. It read “Argentine soldier only known to God.”
When the icon arrives back in Argentina, it will be taken in procession to the Basilica of Luján, where a Mass will be celebrated to mark its return.