Butuan historians ask CBCP to resolve first mass controversy in city’s favor

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BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/03 April) – Decades after the debate on where the first Catholic mass in the archipelago took place has remained unresolved, local historians yesterday said they have new data and evidences to prove that the “honor” belongs to the city.

They said they are hoping that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) would finally declare that the first mass was held in Mazaua, a place in Butuan now called Masao, not in Limasawa Island in Leyte as stated in history books.


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Speaking before the mass marking the 491st anniversary of the event on Saturday, March 31, local historian and president of the Butuan City Heritage Society Greg Hontiveros said they are confident their new data and evidences can now convince critics and skeptics.

In an interview yesterday, Honteviros said “it took us a long time to finalize our research and gather more evidence. We felt the confidence, we finally completed the quest in finding the truth about this issue. It was a huge effort, long process and time that we took to have the position of Butuan.”

He said the CBCP has already requested an inquiry and a resolution to investigate the first mass controversy since the event is very symbolic and important to the church.

Accounts said that on March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday, Friar Pedro Valderrama celebrated mass together with Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his men. With the Spaniards were the ruler of Mazaua Rajah Siaiu and his brother Rajah Colambu, the ruler of Butuan. Afterwards they planted a cross on the highest hill and stayed in the area for seven days and helped in the rice harvest for two days together with more than a hundred of the Rajah’s men.

“When they arrived on Good Friday, they were harvesting rice for two days, that means to say, the place where they went was the Mazaua, not in Limasawa but somewhere in Mindanao. Because they harvested for two days, what can you harvest in Limasawa when there was nothing [there]?” said Father Joesilo Amalla, curator of Butuan Diocesan Liturgical Museum.

“More than a hundred of people helped in the harvest, meaning it was a huge agricultural area. I’ve been to Limasawa a lot of times. They have said that the rice harvested came from the surrounding island, and they said they have harvested in the island itself. So their claim is wrong,” Amalla added.

He pointed out that one important evidence is the Yale Codex, which according to Magellan scholars, is more impressive than the Ambrosiana Codex used in the past to justify both claims.

He said the document is now in the hands of Yale University while the other two French manuscripts are in Paris, in the French National Library.

The priest said they included the other versions of Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Magellan’s voyage, because there are subtle indicators that can be used.

Amalla also presented the manuscript for a soon-to-be-published book titled The Anthology of the First Mass Controversy in the Philippines which he hopes would shed light on the CBCP inquiry.

On  March 31, 1998, the National Historical Institute chose to adopt the finding of the Gancayco Panel which dismissed the Ginés de Mafra account as fake and forthwith unilaterally reverted the discussion to pre-de Mafra context which was back to whether the site of the first mass was Limasawa, the isle without anchorage, or Butuan, which is not an isle.

The NHI reaffirmed its previous pronouncements that Limasawa is Magellan’s port. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)

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