In the Philippines, historians have finally resolved the controversy over the exact location of the celebration of the First Mass in the archipelago: it was urgent, because the country intends to commemorate with pomp the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity. A jubilee is scheduled for 2021.
The island of Limasawa stretches for about ten kilometers in the region of Leyte-Sud, in the center of the archipelago.
According to the official chronicler of the expedition led by the famous Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, it was here – the place he called Mazaua - that the boats docked on March 31, 1521.
On the occasion of Easter Sunday Mass - the first in this new and promising land - a cross was planted by the chaplain of the fleet, Fr. Pedro De Valderrama.
Many centuries later, in 1960, a law enshrined the island of Limasawa as the high place to commemorate this first Mass, and the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines.
But, in the 1980s, Fr. Joesilo Amalla, curator of the Diocesan Liturgy Museum in Butuan, in the province of Agusan-Nord, voiced a discordant view: the mention of “Mazaua” would refer to Masao, an island that is located in the current territory of the municipality of Butuan, and not in Limasawa.
Several requests were then filed with the National Institute of History to study the new lead. On March 31, 2010, Fr. Amalla celebrated mass in Butuan - in Latin too! - in order to “better find the atmosphere of this first Mass” celebrated in the archipelago, he declared at the time.
It was not until 2018 that a new investigation was launched. Two years later, on August 19, 2020, the National Institute of History decided: the first mass has indeed taken place on the island of Limasawa.
Fr. Oscar Cadayona, vicar general of the diocese of Maasin, was quick to react, saying, “the evidence leading to Limasawa could not be refuted, we are very happy.”
And so, it is in a place located a little west of Limasawa that the jubilee commemorating the half-millennium of the victory of the Cross over the darkness of paganism will open in the Philippines in 2021.