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ARGENTINA | 25-09-2019 16:04

Former Malvinas foes to swap Virgin Mary statues at Vatican

Pope to preside over the exchange of two symbolically powerful statues of 'La Virgen de Luján' between Argentine and British bishops, 37 years after the conflict in the South Atlantic between the two nations.

Pope Francis will next month preside over the exchange of two symbolically powerful statues of the Virgin Mary between Argentine and British bishops, 37 years after the conflict in the South Atlantic between the two nations.

The Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales confirmed Italian press reports on Wednesday about the October 30 ceremony in St Peter's Square at the Vatican.

During the ceremony, Britain's Bishop of the Forces, Paul Mason, will hand over a statue of Our Lady of Luján ("La Virgen de Luján"), Patroness of Argentina, which troops abandoned as they retreated from the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands in 1982 to his Argentine counterpart, Santiago Olivera.

Argentine Pontiff Francis will bless both statues.

"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 Luján in Argentina," the Bishops' Conference said in a statement. 

British troops took the statue back to Britain, where it was placed in the Catholic Military Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Aldershot, a focus for prayer offered for the fallen of both sides.

In return, the Argentines will hand over a replica of the Our Lady of Luján to be taken back to the cathedral in Aldershot.

"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 Bishops' Conference quoted Mason as saying.

Britain rejects Argentina's requests for dialogue over the long-term future of the islands in the South Atlantic, which it calls the Falklands, 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, which it calls the Malvinas, from Spain when it gained independence and the stakes involved have increased in recent years with the discovery of significant exploitable oil and gas reserves around the remote islands.

Argentine troops occupied the Falklands in 1982 but were ousted by a British military taskforce after a brief war which cost the lives of more than 900 troops.

– TIMES/AFP

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