Published On: Thu, Oct 31st, 2019

Falklands U-Turn: Britain returns statue to Argentina as Pope Francis observes climbdown | World | News

The Argentine statue – the Madonna – was captured by British troops following their heroic victory in the Falklands, but will now be returned to Buenos Aires via a handover with Pope Francis. Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic military chaplain, Bishop Paul Mason, handed the statuette to his Argentine counterpart Bishop Santiago Olivera as Francis watched over the ceremony in St Peter’s Square yesterday. It was meant as a gesture of civility between the two countries 37 years after the bitter, violent war was fought.

Bishop Mason received a replica to take back to Aldershot, where the original had been kept safe at Catholic Military Cathedral of St Michael and St George.

Pope Francis blessed both statuettes before they departed the Vatican, with the original heading back to Argentina on Sunday before touring the South American country.

The Madonna was taken to the Falkland Islands by Argentine troops a week after the initial invasion, but as British forces began to overwhelm their opponents, the artefact was left behind.

Bishop Olivera, who received the statuette, had requested it be returned to allow locals in Argentina to venerate it once more, a request which Bishop Mason was eager to fulfil.

He said: “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 feeling of unity between British and Argentine Catholics has not been echoed by the incoming, newly elected President Fernandez, who has expressed a strong desire to reclaim the islands.

Peronist Fernandez is supported by former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and the populist pair are making the archipelago a central part of their nationalist campaign.

Mr Fernandez said he wants to “renew the claim of sovereignty” of the Falkland Islands as one of his first points of business having won elections last Sunday with a convincing 48 percent of the vote.

READ MORE: Falkland islanders fear fresh Argentina row after election result

It reads: “The Argentine Nation ratifies its legitimate and non-prescribing sovereignty over the Malvinas, Georgias del Sur and Sandwich del Sur Islands and over the corresponding maritime and insular zones, as they are an integral part of the National territory.

“The recovery of said territories and the full exercise of sovereignty, respectful of the way of life of their inhabitants and according to the principles of international law, are a permanent and unrelinquished goal of the Argentine people.”

With the objective also made difficult due to political restrictions as well, the Islands should remain safely under British rule.

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