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Catholics prepare for 500th anniversary

Two rival communities launch their campaign to host half-millennium celebrations

Catholics prepare for 500th anniversary
A Balanghai boat marker at the Buod Promontory in Pinamangkulan village in Butuan City
Julian Labores and Ben Serrano, Manila

April 11, 2011

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Catholics in the central Philippine province of Southern Leyte have started a 10-year campaign for a grand celebration of the 500th anniversary of the first Catholic Mass in the country, which was supposedly held on Limasawa Island. but people in the southern city of Butuan are making similar preparations, claiming that the first Catholic Mass in the country was held there and not on Limasawa Island on March 31, 1521. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which is apparently supporting the Limasawa claim, said the Diocese of Maasin in Southern Leyte marked the 490th anniversary of the Mass on March 31. Butuan City Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr. led a separate celebration of the 490th year of the first Catholic Easter Mass on March 31. Father Joesilo Amalla, a historian and curator of the Diocese of Butuan Museum, celebrated an all Latin Mass or Tridentine Mass. Local artists re-enacted the first Mass at the city’s Rizal Park fronting the St. Joseph Catholic cathedral. The CBCP said the 10-year countdown has for its theme “Renewed Evangelization,” consistent with the CBCP proclamation of the same theme for the decade. Bishop Cantillas said the golden anniversary of the Maasin Diocese in 2018 “is another reason to strongly resolve to renew our life of faith.” Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu presided over the March 31 Mass in a field overlooking the Shrine of the First Holy Mass in Southern Leyte. Butuan historians, however, insist that the first Catholic Mass was held at the Buod Promontory in Butuan City where a huge cross and a Balanghai (traditional Filipino boat) marker were built. Father Amalla said some journals of an early Spanish expedition revealed that a Mass took place on “Mazaua” in Butuan City not Limasawa in Leyte. Local government officials said regardless of the controversy, the first Easter Mass is more symbolic than substantive to the evangelization of the Catholic Church and the advancement of Christianity. Southern Leyte congressman Roger Mercado said he is proposing to declare March 31 every year as a national non-working holiday to highlight the significance of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines and in Asia. Archbishop Palma lauded the collaboration among the clergy, government officials, military and civilians as demonstrated by the enthusiastic yet orderly celebration of the event. PM13929.1649
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