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ARGENTINA | 30-10-2019 13:23

Argentine and British bishops exchange statuettes of Our Lady of Luján at Vatican

Pope Francis appeared to wipe away tears on Wednesday, during an emotional ceremony that saw Argentina and Britain make powerful gesture of reconciliation, 37 years on from the war between the two nations.

Pope Francis appeared to wipe away tears on Wednesday, during an emotional ceremony in St. Peter's Square that sought to heal one wound from the South Atlantic conflict

In the ceremony, led by the Buenos Aires born pontiff, Argentine and British bishops exchanged statuettes of the Virgin Mary in a powerful sign of reconciliation, 37 years after the war between the two nations.

Britain's Bishop of the Forces, Paul Mason, handed over a statuette of Our Lady of Luján, Argentina's patron saint, to his Argentine counterpart, Santiago Olivera. 

Argentine troops had brought a statue of Our Lady of Luján to Las Malvinas, or the Falkland Islands, when they invaded the British colony in 1982.

However, the troops had abandoned the figure as they retreated from the islands in 1982, and the British had taken it home with them, placing it in the Catholic Military Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Aldershot.

In the swap, Bishop Olivera handed over a replica of the statuette, made in Argentina, to be taken back to the cathedral in southern England, where prayers are offered for the fallen of both sides.

Francis presided over the swap in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square, then accepted a sip of mate, the country's traditional drink.

Following his public audience, he then wiped his eyes and kissed a stone plaque which honours war dead from his Argentine homeland.

The statuette is itself a copy of the 1630 original, which is in the Basilica of Luján, the Catholic Church of England and Wales said in a statement ahead of the event. 

"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," the Church quoted Mason as saying.

Argentina's troops occupied the disputed islands in 1982 but were ousted by a British military taskforce after a brief war which cost the lives of more than 900 troops.

Britain rejects Buenos Aires' requests for dialogue over the long-term future of the islands, which lie off South America in the South Atlantic, insisting there is nothing to discuss since 99.8 percent of the islanders voted in a 2013 referendum to remain a British overseas territory.

Argentina claims it inherited the remote islands when it gained independence from Spain. The stakes involved have increased in recent years with the discovery of significant exploitable oil and gas reserves around the islands.

– TIMES/AFP/AP

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