Philippine bishops adopt govt study affirming site of first Easter Sunday Mass

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has adopted a government study identifying the island of Limasawa in the central Philippines as the site of the first Easter Sunday Mass in the country.

In a resolution on Sept. 25, the bishops’ conference said it “stand(s) by the proceedings and findings” of a panel of historians affirming previous findings on the historic event.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has earlier determined that the 1521 Mass took place on the island off the province of Southern Leyte.

In its own resolution issued on July 15, the commission adopted the recommendation of the panel led by historian Resil Mojares that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his men celebrated Mass in Limasawa.

The Catholic bishops’ conference said agreed with the decision, supporting the report submitted by the investigating panel on the issue surrounding the liturgical event held almost 500 years ago.

The bishops’ resolution was signed by its acting president, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, and Bishop Julito Cortes, head of the Episcopal Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.

The commission reopened the investigation into the issue in 2018 after receiving requests from various groups to resolve the controversy on the site of the first Easter Mass of March 31, 1521.

Some sectors have proposed that Butuan, in the province of Agusan del Norte, as the site of the historic Mass, not Limasawa.

Requests for clarification were also made in time for the 500th anniversary in 2021 of the arrival of the Christian faith in the country.

The country’s Catholic bishops supported the government panel by appointing a church historian as member of the team.

After almost two years of study, actual location surveys and deliberations, the panel agreed that the island of Limasawa be sustained as the site of the first Easter Mass officiated by Father Pedro Valderrama, the only priest in Magellan’s crew.

The panel also noted that it is using “Easter Sunday Mass” to refer to the event because Magellan’s expedition arrived in the Philippine archipelago during the Holy Week and Father Valderama might have celebrated some undocumented Masses earlier.

Magellan and his crew first landed on Homonhon Island in Eastern Samar province on March 16, 1521, where they stayed for eight days before heading to Limasawa.

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