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First Mass: In Limasawa, or in Butuan?


An interview with the President of the Butuan City Historical and Cultural Foundation.
Mr. Greg Hontiveros


            Limasawa or Masao? First mass, where was it really held? These two places have claimed that the first mass happened in either of these places and until now, they are still debating about where it could really be.

            At first, the Philippine Government officially recognized that the first mass was first celebrated at Limasawa, an islet in the Southern tip of Leyte del Sur. And the government also declared the Limasawa, as the National shrine to commemorate the first mass on Land on the Philippines and called “the birth of Christianity”.

            This location was accepted by some American and Filipinos scholars, includes Emman H. Blair and James A. Robertson, Prof. Teodoro A. Agncillo, and Dr. Gregorio F. Zaide. However, it appears that they were all mistaken of what they believe in, and Dr. Zaide admitted that fact according to his last works. And his preface to the said works, Dr. Zaide wrote: “It is high time for contemporary historians and the Philippine government to correct their mistake and accept that the first Christian mass was celebrated in Masao, Butuan, Agusan del Norte and not in Limasawa, Leyte, on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521.”

            In June 1997, a symposium was held at the National Library, Manila, sponsored by the National Historical Institute in a mission to resolve this controversy. Significantly, leading historians like then NHI (National History Institute) Chairman Professor Esteban A. de Ocampo and FEU Professor Celedonio O. Resurrection acknowledged the mistake, but still the NHI however made no official recommendation. And the former First Lady, Mrs. Imelda R. Marcos, expected to approve any such recommendation to move the site of the National shrine from Leyte to Agusan.

            One of the evidences to prove that it was really held in Masao, is the Magellan’s cross founded at the seashore of Masao Beach, Butuan City. The four primary sources on the voyage, state that Masao was located at a latitude of 9 degrees or 9 and 2/3 degrees north, a position which eliminates Limasawa Island, which is located 9 degrees 55’8” north latitude, and strengthens the claim of Masao, Butuan which is at 9 degrees 00’8” north latitude.

            According also to the pro-Masao group, there are several reasons why the first Easter mass in the Philippines was held in Masao, Butuan City, and not in Limasawa, Leyte, as follows: (1) the name itself; (2) the travel time between the places visited before and after Masao; (3) the latitude position given by the voyagers; (4) the conditions of the voyage in arriving at the place; and (5) the geographical features of the place as described by those who were there.

            There are really controversies and debates about the First Christian and Easter Mass in the Philippines, but, whatever will be the result, the only hope, is it will say the truth.

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