Where was the first Mass in the Philippines held?


THE visit of Pope Francis will inevitably resurrect a controversial and unresolved issue on the introduction of Christianity to the Philippines – just where was the first Holy Mass celebrated? On his arrival, the Pope noted that the Church in the Philippines was preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the “first proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on these shores.”

The introduction of Christianity on Philippine shores is generally linked to the celebration of the first Holy Mass, and Butuan City and Limasawa, Southern Leyte, both claim to be the venue of this historical religious rite. A dear friend, Rolly Narciso, is among those feverishly pushing for the official recognition of Masau in Butuan City as the true site. It’s hope that this controversy in the country’s history will have been resolved by March 31, 2015 when the Philippines celebrates its 500th year of Christianization.

Actually, the National Historical Institute (NHI) has already reached a conclusion after a two-year study. In 1996, it reaffirmed the popular belief propelled by Republic Act 2733 that the first Holy Mass was celebrated in Limasawa Island on March 31, 1521.The NHI cited the memoirs of Antonio Pigafetta, who chronicled the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan, as “the only credible primary source that yields the best evidence of the celebration of the first Christian Mass on Philippine soil.” This issue, however, remains debatable despite the pronouncement from the NHI.

Tomas “Buddy” Gomez 3rd, a one-time press secretary of President Cory, disagreed with the NHI on naming Limasawa as the true venue and called for the correction of this “long-standing historical error.” No, he doesn’t contest that Pigafetta had indeed written that a Mass was held in Limasawa on that Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521,
“There us, however, on inescapable and irrefutable fact: “Pigafetta NEVER said that the Easter Mass in Limasawa was the ‘first.’ Neither did any of the survivors of Magellan’s expedition,” Buddy added in a post to his Facebook friends, including this columnist.

He noted that while a Jesuit wrote in 1663 that the first Mass was held in Limasawa, he considered this as a mere opinion and not a fact. He lamented that subsequent “copycat” historians entrenched this “historical error.”

“An unrecorded first Mass, of necessity, comes springing out into more credible contention,” Buddy wrote.

He wondered if a Mass was celebrated on Philippine shores before the 1521 Easter Sunday. He cited records showing that Magellan stayed in Homonhon (now a part of Samar Island) for eight days, including March 24 which was Palm Sunday.

“Is Easter Sunday Mass ever celebrated without being preceded by Mass on a Palm Sunday,” he asked. He then argued that the First Mass could actually have been held not in Limasawa or Masau but in Homonhon.

He expressed the hope that Pope Francis would return to the Philippines when the country celebrates its Fifth Centenary of Christianity and that by then “all historical inexactitude” would have been resolved collectively by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the leadership of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

Cory’s birthday

The relatives and many admirers of the late President Cory Aquino will be commemorating her birthday tomorrow, January 25. Like many, I grieved on her death in August 2009. Her death was a tragedy, rendered more sorrowful by the greater tragedy of her only son’s being elected to Malacañang by sentimental voters. Why couldn’t she have lived longer or until after the 2010 presidential election?

I also grieve on the death of an old friend, former Rep. Mike Romero of Negros Oriental. He always had a sunny disposition, even when he was on the verge of death and needing a kidney transplant. He served for three terms in the House (1987 to 1998) and provided invaluable services to his constituents. I once heard then Sen. Ernesto Maceda proclaim that if he were to choose the five most outstanding congressmen at that time, Mike Romero would be one of them. I must add though that the other Negros Oriental congressmen from 1987 to 1998, Gary Teves and Jerry Paras, were equally outstanding. It’s very rare for a province to have all its representatives perform exceptionally well.

Mike was in the board of the Philippine National Bank and, after its privatization, in the Development Bank of the Philippines. We met occasionally in important meetings of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, which he refused to abandon even after it had fallen off its lofty political status.



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