Limasawa Braces For 500th Anniversary Of Philippines’ 1st Mass

The government is stepping up its preparation for the 500th anniversary of the first Roman Catholic Mass in the country in 2021 even with the revival of controversies arising about where the first mass was held.

Southern Leyte Governor Damian Mercado said the province has been preparing the island for the influx of pilgrims. Road network has been upgraded, new port was also built in this town’s Magallanes village, and improvement at the First Mass Shrine complex.

Mercado added that this improvement will help seal their belief that the first mass was indeed held in the island town and not in Butuan.

“Of course, I will say that the mass happened in Limasawa not because I’m from Southern Leyte but because records and evidences presented by historians support this claim,” Mercado said during the 498th First Mass commemoration on Sunday.

University of the Philippines and Leyte-based historian Rolando Borrinaga said he will deliver his latest research with the National Quincentennial Committee of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines on April 25-27, 2019 in Limasawa and Maasin City.

Before this presentation, in 1996, it reaffirmed the popular belief pushed by Republic Act 2733 signed in 1960 that the first Holy Mass was celebrated in Limasawa Island on March 31, 1521.

“There were also two commissions that had decided on this and both said that Limasawa was the site of the First Eastern Mass,” said Karina Rosa Tiopes, Department of Tourism Eastern Visayas Regional Director.

“But as far as the promotion is concerned, this had not affected the tourism much. For many people, this is really where the first mass took place and that is why they come to Limasawa,” she added.

Nearly 50 years after the passage of Republic Act 2733 declaring Limasawa as the place of the first mass, last year, a group signed a declaration urging the continuation of the debate on the exact site of the first mass — Limasawa in Southern Leyte and Masao in Butuan.

“I hope that this controversy will be settled so that the people of Limasawa and the people of Butuan will finally have peace of mind and will no longer be squabbling over this issue,” Tiopes added.

The tourism department in support of the local government unit and the provincial government is drumbeating the activities for the 500th year celebration.

Last year, the Regional Development Council, the region’s highest policy-making body, passed a resolution creating an ad hoc coordinating group to ensure the smooth implementation of the programs, projects and activities needed for the 500th anniversary

The ad hoc coordinating group is headed by the DOT, with members from Southern Leyte provincial government, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation, and the local government of Limasawa, Southern Leyte.

In support of the celebration, the Council also endorsed the installation of the First Mass’ Cross Shrine on Limasawa Island. It also resolved to declare Limasawa as the “true” and undisputed site of the historical first mass in the Philippines.

Limasawa is identified as one of the pilgrimage sites or pilgrimage destinations in Eastern Visayas where tourists visiting the island will experience religious activities.

Aside from being a pilgrimage site, the island is also famous for its rich corals and limestone cliff that is ideal for swimming, snorkeling and diving.

The DOT has already trained 42 homeowners who will be offering homestay for tourists who will not be accommodated in four lodging houses in the island, Tiopes said.

Limasawa Island, the smallest town in Southern Leyte province, is touted to be the site of the first Catholic mass in Asia, officiated on Easter Sunday on March 31, 1521 by Father Pedro de Valderrama under the fleet of Ferdinand Magellan. (PNA)

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