A visit to the renowned shrine of Our Lady of Luján was part of the Golden Jubilee ceremonies for the presence of the Cabra Dominican sisters in Argentina. This Marian shrine is within a very beautiful basilica begun in 1887 and completed in 1935 and situated in a city forty- three miles west of Buenos Aires. Our Lady of Luján is Patroness of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Most of the sisters were staying in San Miguel. Being some distance away from Luján meant that we had to get up early on Monday morning, 26 February, and be ready to leave at 8 o’clock. It was a two hour journey from San Miguel to Luján including time spent in picking up sisters who were staying at various points along the way. It was a delightfully sunny day and everyone was in summer dress. We reached Lujan about 9.35 in grand time to take in the gracious approach of the two long arcades which led the eye effortlessly to the basilica steps. As we moved nearer we could admire the façade and the faultless proportions of this delightful neo-Gothic church.
Most of us wanted to see the Irish altar within as the Irish contributed to the building in the late nineteenth century. We were not too long in discovering it, adorned with statues of Patrick, Brigid and Columcille (mistakenly written Columban) and also Malachy. In front of the altar a large slab indicates the grave of Father Henry Gray CM from Lissadell, Co. Armagh, of interest to us Dominicans as Father Gray was related to Mother Laurentia Corr OP who lived many years in Falls Road. Father Gray who died in 1928 after 60 years in religious life was a Vincentian, the Congregation responsible for the sanctuary of Luján up to some years ago.
The inside of the church is of a pleasing soft pink colour. Since it is in honour of Our Lady, her statue is placed in a prominent position above the altar and it can also be approached from behind through a tiny oratory. The main altar is on an elevation and this is where we were having our Mass celebrated by Father Sergio Gomez Tey. We were lucky to have seating accommodation within the sanctuary rails very near the high altar where Sergio was officiating. Just before the Mass, Sister Veronica Rafferty read a sonnet in Spanish and English written by Sister Matilde Franchino specially for the occasion. Sergio gave an excellent homily on Our Lady, relating the attraction of her person to the magnetism of the Transfiguration of the Lord which was the Gospel for the previous Sunday. He also gave very scriptural interpretations for the dress on the statue, how the sun behind is symbol of her Son who is light, the moon beneath her feet and the stars around her head showing that she is Queen of the Universe.
At the end of the Mass we were sprinkled with Holy Water in honour of Our Baptism after which Sergio then had to hurry away as he had pastoral commitments. This was rather a pity as many of us who knew him had been looking forward to having a longer time to talk to him.
After Mass we met many friends from Cuartel V in Moreno who had travelled to Luján to see us. Some had been unable to be present at the celebrations the previous Saturday and were delighted at the opportunity to meet some of us the following Monday in Luján. Naturally then our feet brought us to enjoy morning coffee and a long chat in a very pleasant restaurant nearby.
Repositories abound in Luján replete with rosaries, medals, statues and booklets. Some of us were very interested to see a book by Father Sergio on el Negrito Manuel, an African slave who cared for the statue of Our Lady many years before the basilica was built.
Very soon it was time for lunch when we were all treated to a lovely meal by the Council General. The restaurant proved equal to the task of satisfying all of us with our favourite dishes. Again time slipped by and by 3 p.m. we were all again dispersing in different directions. The organization which went into bringing us together for a delightful morning and then seeing us all safely to our pre-arranged destinations was a triumph of coordination and planning by the sisters living in Argentina. The celebration in Luján moved very smoothly and we thank the sisters cordially for their efforts.
Sr. Mary O’Byrne OP