LIMASAWA, Southern Leyte – This island town of the province of Southern Leyte, the site recognized by government and NHI as the official venue of the Roman Catholic’s 1st Easter Mass has 16 other religions aside from Roman Catholicism practiced by more than 6,000 total population with six barangays.
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To reach Limasawa, one has to board a boat from the mainland of Burgos town, Southern Leyte which only has once a day trip to the island for an hour trip.
Butuan City and Magallanes, Agusan del Norte where a Magellan Shrine is erected are other claimants of the first Catholic Mass done in Philippine soil 497 years ago.
By March 15, 2021, the Philippines and Spain will celebrate 500 years of Christianization of the first Christian country in Asia and in Southeast Asia, the Philippines.*
“[Even] with six barangays, it [Limasawa] has only one Catholic Parish Priest, the Parish of Holy Cross under the Diocese of Maasin, Southern Leyte,” says Limasawa Shrine gate-keeper, tourist guide and information officer Sam Espinosa Galvez.
Galvez admitted to this writer, in an exclusive interview, he being the official tour guide of the Limasawa Shrine for 12 years now, providing and educating through story-telling to already thousands of local and foreign tourists who visited the Shrine, claimed he himself is not a Roman Catholic but a Protestant.
“Our family, who owns the land where the shrine is now located, are Limasawa natives who were former Roman Catholics. When there was a time when we have no Parish Priest, our family and the rest of the Catholics of the island converted to other religions and different religious denominations ”, added Galvez.
Galvez admitted it was ironic that the place and seat of the First Easter Catholic Mass have the Catholics as the minority.
“This is considering that the First Easter Mass is supposed to be a big Catholic event that paved the way to the spread of Roman Catholicism not only in our country but also in Asia,” says Galvez.
Galvez claimed he finds it awkward sometimes especially when tourists and visitors asked him if he, being a native tour guide, was a Catholic or not.
“ I readily answer them that we were once Catholics but now Protestantsotestants,” Galvez added.
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Galvez also claimed that the number of arrivals of tourists, local and foreigners, to Limasawa Shrine increased over the years.
“Two days ago there were foreign TV and media from Europe who took footages in the island, they requested me to guide them so I accompanied them,” Galvez said.
Recent Limasawa Shrine vistor, Sister Concepcion Heras of the Servants of Jesus Charity Order, a Diocesan Nun from the Diocese of Surigao but a Spanish Nun from Madrid, Spain told this writer in an exclusive interview the lull of having no Parish Priest for quite sometime explains why Limasawa residents converted into other denominations.
“… it is not only the presence of a Priest that will sustain and nourish your religious life as a Catholic. It is the effectiveness, the quality of service of the Priest that counts. This is also true among us religious sisters as challenges to nurture and sustain Christian or Catholic life have become increasing each day in this modern times where modern information and communication are available, “ Sister Heras concludes.
Heras was with other missionary sisters from Missionary Sisters of Mary (MSM), Servants of Jesus Charity sisters and with St. Paul University System in the Philippines Chancellor and St. Paul University Surigao City President Sister Marie Rossanne Mallillin, SPC, and other Catholic priests who visited this island recently.
This writer, upon invitation, joined the sisters and some 60 participants to the Forum of the 1st Easter Mass which was mostly composed of History Professors, Archeologists, local historians, representatives from the academe, LGUs and other religious groups.
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Galvez admitted that until now, despite working for 12 years as Limasawa Shrine information officer and tour guide after working for private firms, he still has no plantilla position thus he is not a regular employee of the Limasawa Municipal Government but a Job Order for 12 years under Limasawa Tourism office.
Galvez claimed after he resigned from Atlas Mining as mining supervisor, he then worked in the Middle East as an OFW in Qatar Airport as supervisor then his last stint was in Hongkong Airport as Runway Supervisor, he then applied at the Limasawa LGU and underwent series of exams given by the regional office of the Department of Tourism in Tacloban City passed the exams with flying colors as tour guide and info officer of Limasawa Shrine.
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“But I don’t have regrets despite being a degree holder and I should have plantilla position by now. I am doing this for my birthplace Limasawa. Recently I was promoted by the Limasawa LGU under the Municipal Tourism Office from Job Order to Casual employee and eventually they promised me plantilla position,” Galvez concludes.
*Editor’s Note: The Philippines and Timor Leste are the two predominantly Christian-Catholic nations of Southeast Asia.