Our Lady of Luján, going home

Argentinian soldiers pose with a statue of Our Lady of Luján during the 1982 Falklands War. (Credit: Military Diocese for Argentina.)

The day after April Fool’s 1982 saw a combined-arms task force of the Argentine military, spearheaded by 85 Buzos Tácticos commandos and some 500 members of the elite 2nd Marine Infantry Battalion (BIM-2), landed in the Falkland Islands in Operation Rosario, a combat seizure of the British colony from a vastly outnumbered force of fewer than 100 Royal Marines, mobilized territorials and armed sailors. Buenos Aries then swiftly reinforced these troops with a division-sized unit of conscripts, in a gamble that Maggie Thatcher would call it a day.

She did not.

By mid-June, the Empire had struck back, so to speak, sending two crack special-operations augmented light infantry brigades (3 Commando and 5 Guards) and a 44-ship armada (plus another 70 RFA ships and vessels taken from trade) to retake the islands back by force.

In the end, the 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders died during the sharp 74-day undeclared war. An amazing 11,313 Argentine prisoners of war were left in British hands to be repatriated to the Latin American continent. Some 25 Argentine military aircraft were captured by the Brits, with many taken back to serve as war trophies, along with the Argentine Coast Guard patrol boat GC82 Islas Malvinas (kept as HMS Tiger Bay until 1986 when she was sold), and some 11,000 assorted small arms.

However, while the surrendered Argentine units were allowed to keep their flags, and officers even allowed to retain their sidearms, the Argentine military holy relic, Our Lady of Luján– representing both the patroness of Argentina, as well as the patroness for Argentine military chaplains– was sent to England. Today, it is on display at the Catholic Military Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Aldershot.

In a deal worked out by Bishop of the (UK) Forces Paul Mason and his Argentinian counterpart, Bishop Santiago Olivera, the statute will be returned to Argentina in November while a duplicate replica will remain behind.

The two statues will be exchanged on Oct. 30 during a conference for military bishops taking place in Rome, after being blessed by Pope Francis.

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