Homonhon priest calls for end to ‘desecration’ of historic island

Homonhon priest calls for end to ‘desecration’ of historic island

Homonhon residents join the planting of “500 trees for 500 years” on the island’s Pagbabangnan village to celebrate the Quincentennial Year of Christianity in the Philippines on March 14, 2021. PHOTO FROM PAROKYA NI SAN JUAN-HOMONHON FACEBOOK

By Roy Lagarde

March 18, 2021

Manila, Philippines

A Catholic priest on the historic island of Homonhon has made an emphatic appeal to restore the ‘sacredness’ of the area that has long been ‘desecrated’ by mining operations.

Speaking after Mass to mark the 500 years of Christianity on Wednesday, Fr. Christian Ofilan called for unity to save the island from further destruction.

He said the island off Guiuan town in Eastern Samar province is the first place in the country where Christianity landed five centuries ago.

For many decades, the pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish said that their ancestors treated the island as a sacred place.

“But what have we done? We have desecrated it. We destroyed this island,” Ofilan said. “We lost its sacredness because of our irresponsibilities.”

“I would like to use my small voice to call on our government leaders, let us help each other to protect our sacred island,” he said.

He stressed that the jubilee year should remind the faithful that part of their mission is to be good stewards of God’s creation.

“I call on the government leaders from the mayor of Guiuan up to President Duterte, please stop desecrating our island,” Ofilan said.

The 26,000 acre island, which is known for its vast deposits of nickel and chromite, have been grappling with open-pit mining since the early 1990s.

The Mass was led by Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan with 37 priests from the diocese’s different parishes concelebrating.

The celebration was also attended by some local government leaders and visitors from Spain and Portugal, including Poland Ambassador to the Philippines Jarosław Szczepankiewicz.

The occasion marked the landing of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his Spanish crew 500 years ago on the island.

The bishop said it is on record that the voyagers were welcomed by the island’s ancestors with “grateful hospitality”.

“In the years that followed they also joyfully welcomed the faith the missionaries brought with them,” Varquez said.

“500 years of Christianity started here on the island,” he said.

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