Five Centuries Ago in Chile, God Came From the South

November 17, 2020
The first mass in Chile, by Pedro Subercaseaux (1880-1956)

On November 8, 2020, Bishop Bernardo Bastres, bishop of Punta Arenas (Chile), celebrated Mass on the occasion of the five hundredth anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in this southernmost territory of the country. A letter from the Sovereign Pontiff wishing to be associated with the event was read during the celebration.

The message was delivered at the start of the ceremony by Chilean historian Mateo Martinic Beros, a real connoisseur of Patagonia.

In his letter, Pope Francis returned to the importance of this anniversary: ​​“It is a historic date, not only for the diocese of Punta Arenas, but for the entire Catholic Church in Chile, because five hundred years ago, on November 11, 1520, Divine Providence, on the hill of Monte Cruz, in the Strait of Magellan, wanted Fr. Pedro de Valderrama, chaplain of Fernando de Magellan's expedition, to offer the sacrifice of the Holy Mass for the first time on these lands,” declared the Argentine pontiff.

In September 1519, Fernand de Magellan and his second in command, Sebastian Elcanon, left Spain at the head of five ships and two hundred and forty-seven crew members. Who then would have imagined that a single ship, eighteen men in all deprived of their captain, would return safely after three years of a grueling expedition?

Magellan was sure he would find a passage to the East Indies from the west. On October 21, 1520, one of his ships, the Santiago, which was sailing in the lead, discovered what seemed to be the eastern end of the link between the Atlantic and a new ocean which will be given the undeserved name of the Pacific.

On the following November 1, Magellan, in association with the religious calendar, named the new strait “All Saints.” Nowadays, it is named after the man who discovered it.

A few days later, on November 11, 1520, on the feast of Saint Martin, Fr. Pedro Valderrama, an Augustinian religious who was the chaplain for the expedition, celebrated the first mass on what is now Chilean land.

“I encourage you to live the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery, which unites us to Jesus, with a spirit of adoration and of thanksgiving to the Lord,” adds Pope Francis in his letter to Mgr. Bernardo Bastres before concluding with the motto of the diocese of Punta Arenas: “God came from the South.”

It is in fact a quotation from Sacred Scripture, more precisely from the prophet Habakkuk (3:3), according to the Vulgate: “Deus ab austro veniet/God will come from the south.” This motto is an adaptation of a word from Mgr. Pedro Giacomini, Salesian, founder of the diocese of Punta Arenas in 1947. He had said: “Jesus Christ entered Chile from the South.”