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New evidence cited on Philippine 'first Mass' site

April 5th, 2006
UCANews (www.ucanews.com)

BUTUAN CITY, Philippines (UCAN) A priest claims he has new evidence to correct an inaccuracy in the history of the origins of Christianity in the Philippines.

Father Joesilo Amalla, curator of Butuan Diocesan Liturgical Museum, plans to petition the National Historical Institute to study "new evidence" indicating that the first Mass in the Philippines was held in his Agusan del Norte province and not on Limasawa Island, Southern Leyte province.

Butuan City, the Agusan del Norte capital, is 750 kilometers (about 470 miles) southeast of Manila. Southern Leyte reaches down to within 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) of Agusan.

Father Amalla also serves as trustee of the Butuan City Cultural and Historical Foundation Inc. (BCHFI). Journals of an early Spanish expedition record that a Mass took place on "Mazaua," but the historical foundation contends that the Mass was held in Masao, an island that is now part of Butuan.

On April 3, members of the historical foundation met in Butuan and discussed the findings of a geomorphologist and a geologist who support the Butuan group's claim. Among new findings discussed were 28 items of scientific evidence and comparisons between the two islands, Masao and Limasawa, Father Amalla told UCA News.

He said foundation members resolved to petition the National Historical Institute to consider "new proofs" gathered by the priest and other scientists.

Father Amalla recalled that when National Historical Institute chairman Ambeth Ocampo visited Butuan earlier this year, he advised BCHFI officers to submit an updated position paper.

Historians say the Spanish expedition that landed on Mazaua on March 31, 1521, was led by Ferdinand Magellan. Expedition members reportedly planted a cross on the island where the fleet's chaplain, Father Pedro De Valderrama, celebrated Easter Sunday Mass.

A Philippine law in the 1960s declared Limasawa Island a national shrine commemorating the first Mass in the country, but the BCHFI has contested the law since the 1980s.

Government officials in Agusan del Norte also pledged support for the BCHFI cause during the recent commemoration of the first Mass in Butuan City. Some 200 parishioners, Religious, government and tourism officials joined Butuan Diocese's commemoration March 31.

Father Amalla, who said the Mass in Latin to "recapture the atmosphere of the first Mass," lamented that conflicting historical accounts of La Primera Misa (the first Mass) have caused "confusion and a sort of division" among Filipino historians and Catholics.

In Manila, Augusto De Viana, chief of the National Historical Institute's research and publications division, told UCA News that officials anticipate a formal petition by the BCHFI to reopen Butuan's first-Mass claim. The institute recognizes Limasawa as the official site of the first Mass, De Viana said.

"We need documentary evidence, like journals of explorers, and we also welcome other findings of experts," he said. Following this, discussions among representatives of claimants would then be set, he added.

A three-member "independent panel" excluding institute members would evaluate both claims, De Viana said, explaining that the panel usually engages non-historians, such as lawyers, to avoid bias.

Noting that three other northern and central Philippine provinces have claimed that the first Mass was held in their place, De Viana wondered about the value of these claims in making Filipinos "good Christians." He said "future Masses" and not the first Mass is the church's "more important task."

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