Butuan to pursue claim it was site of First Mass in RP 485 years ago
Butuan to pursue claim it was site of First Mass in RP 485 years ago
- Ben Serrano () - April 2, 2006 - 12:00am
BUTUAN CITY — The event that marked the birth of Christianity in the Philippines 485 years ago is still under dispute, with this city renewing its claim that the historic first Mass celebrated by Spanish colonizers was held here and not in Limasawa, Leyte.

Local executives and Church officials as well as historians here said they have new scientific evidence to substantiate the re-filing of a petition before the National Historical Institute (NHI) asserting that Butuan City — particularly Mazzaua Island, now Barangay Pinamangculan — was the official site of the first Mass on Easter Sunday in 1521.

Among the pieces of evidence are 10 1,600-year-old Balahanghai boats believed to have been used for trade and to transport people for worship services.

"We waited for more scientific evidences to strongly substantiate the Mazzaua claim until geomorphologists and archeologists came up with official reports that indeed Mazzaua Island was the site of the first Mass," Fr. Joesilo Amalia, trustee of the Butuan City Cultural and Historical Foundation Inc. and curator of the Butuan Diocese Museum told The STAR yesterday.

A law was passed by Congress on June 19, l960, or Republic Act No. 2733, declared the site of Magallanes on Limasawa Island as the national shrine to commemorate the first Mass ever held in the country that gave birth to Christianity in this now predominantly Catholic nation.

But the Butuan City Cultural and Historical Foundation Inc., (BCHFI) with the backing of the Butuan City government in the early 1980s up to the ’90s, contested the declaration. This prompted the government in 1994 to form the Gancayco Commission headed by then Supreme Court Associate Justice Emilio Gancayco.

In 1996, the commission penned a resolution in favor of the Limasawa Island claim. However, the BCHFI said the NHI board failed to concur with the Gancayco findings.

"This prompted BCHFI to continuously raise our protest," Amalia said.

Two weeks ago, NHI chairman Ambeth Ocampo, who visited the Butuan City Regional Museum here, told BCHFI officials that the NHI is keen on resurrecting the Mazzaua "First Mass" claim.

BCHFI officials are set to meet today with local officials, historians and Church leaders at the Butuan City Regional Museum to discuss the contents of the BCHFI position paper to be submitted to NHI, Amalia said.
New proof
According to BCHFI, it has gathered 28 new pieces of scientific evidence and comparisons between the two islands — Mazzaua and Limasawa — to substantiate Butuan’s claim, including the recovery of 10 Balahanghai boats which were accidentally dug up near Masao River in 1976. A shrine was built for the ancient boats which were used by natives in Butuan for sea travel even before the Spaniards came.

The Philippine government has endorsed the Balanghai Shrine to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a "World Historical and Cultural Heritage Site" because of its contribution to ancient culture and history.

According to Amalia, once UNESCO recognizes the Balanghai Shrine, it will put Butuan City on the world map as a "historical and cultural heritage site."

Amalia said they are hoping the NHI will listen this time, pointing out that the claim for the site of the First Mass must be substantiated by scientific proof, not just by passing a law which, he insisted, had no scientific basis.

Amalia officiated a Mass yesterday commemorating the 485th Anniversary of the First Mass at the site with local government officials headed by City Mayor Democrito Plaza, Church leaders and other officials.

In his homily, Amalia urged Butuanons to unite in support of their claim, saying the distinction of having hosted the first Mass not only is a symbol of the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines, but also a symbol of its spiritual value to the people.

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