Historian offers reward for info on first Philippine Mass

Debate still rages as to where first Eucharistic celebration in the country took place in 1521
Historian offers reward for info on first Philippine Mass

Nuns read a marker that claims that the first Mass in the Philippines was held at a site in Butuan, a city in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Ben Serrano)

A Filipino historian has offered a two-million peso (about US$37,000) reward to anyone who can provide information about where the first Mass in the Philippines took place 497 years ago.

Historian Vicente de Jesus said he would give the reward to anyone who can debunk his own theory and prove the island of Limasawa in Leyte province held the first Mass.

De Jesus maintains that the city of Butuan in the southern region of Mindanao was the site of the first Eucharistic celebration, which happened to be an Easter Mass when Spanish missionaries arrived in the country in 1521.

Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, supposedly mentioned the island of Limasawa in his writings.

"If anyone of you can pinpoint directly from Pigafetta's account ... that Limasawa Island was the site of the first [Easter] Mass, I will give a two million cash reward," De Jesus told a gathering in Butuan.

The historian claimed that nowhere in the logbooks of the explorers and historians is the word "Limasawa" mention pertaining to the first Mass held on March 31, 1521.

Father Pedro de Valderrama, who traveled with Magellan, celebrated the Mass days after they reached shore.

Magellan, who headed a Spanish expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522, reached the Philippines on March 16, 1521.

Almost 500 years after Mass was first celebrated in the Philippines, historians continue to dispute the location of the event that ushered Christianity into the country.

"There is a need to review history," said local historian Potenciano Malvar who said that new evidence and discoveries show other possible areas where Magellan and his men attended Mass. 

Malvar led early this year an expedition, which included researchers, archaeologists, and even a priest, on a weeklong retracing of "Magellan's Routes" before the first Mass.

"It is important to know where the first Mass was really held because it paved the way for the spread of Christianity in Asia," Malvar told ucanews.com.

Sister Marie Rosanne Mallillin, president of the St. Paul University in Surigao, has welcomed the interest in the topic.

She said it is a "responsibility" for Catholic institutions "to correct history based on facts backed up by archaeological evidence ... if there is a dire need for it to be corrected."

"What is important is it has been thoroughly studied, research, and discussed," added the nun.

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The Philippine government earlier issued a declaration that the first Mass was held on Limasawa Island, but some historians like de Jesus still dispute this.

Other possible sites include the village of Masao, or Mazaua, in Butuan and a village named Magallanes in the province of Agusan del Norte, both in Mindanao.

Malvar expressed hope that the controversy will be resolved before March 31, 2021 when the Philippines celebrates the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity.

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