Homonhon as site of ‘first Mass’ in PH remains an ‘academic discussion’ — NHCP

Homonhon as site of ‘first Mass’ in PH remains an ‘academic discussion’ — NHCP

The newly built St. John the Baptist Parish Church on the historic Homonhon Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. PHOTO BY FR. CHRISTIAN OFILAN

By Roy Lagarde

December 16, 2020

Manila, Philippines

It remains an ‘academic discussion’ whether or not the “first Mass in the Philippines” took place on Homonhon Island off Eastern Samar province, a government agency said.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines said it has refrained from using the “trivial and debatable phase” so as not to preempt other claims on the historic Mass.

“This not to preempt the possible Christian celebration conducted in the Philippine territory prior to the one in Limasawa, such as this claim in Homonhon,” said NHCP chair Rene Escalante.

The official was responding to a position paper by Fr. Neil Tenefrancia, chancellor of the Diocese of Borongan, on the supposed first Mass on Homonhon.

In his 15-page paper, the priest argued for the logical possibility of at least four unrecorded Masses on Homonhon based on the pre-Tridentine liturgical calendar in use during 1521.

“Nevertheless, the case of Homonhon shall remain an academic discussion,” Escalante said.

“In actively advancing this claim, the Diocese of Borongan has to guarantee that the public must appreciate it methodologically,” he added.

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew including an Augustinian missionary reached the Philippines nearly 500 years ago.

The expedition first landed on March 16, 1521 in Homonhon, where they stayed for eight days before heading to Limasawa Island in Southern Leyte province.

The NHCP has earlier affirmed that the “First Easter Sunday Mass” was held in Limasawa on March 31, 1521.

The week prior to March 31 was a Holy Week, wherein Catholics commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

Some theorists claim that the first Mass may have been celebrated in Homonhon, where Magellan and his men took a weeklong respite.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines is celebrating the fifth centenary of the arrival of the Christian faith in the country in 2021.

Fr. Christian Ofilan of St. John the Baptist Parish in Homonhon, expressed hope that the site of the first Mass in the country may finally be resolved.

“It is our hope and prayer that the historical recognition that the island of Homonhon rightfully deserves may finally be accorded to her,” Ofilan said.

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