Philippine Church history began on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521 when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed in the tiny island of Limasawa and there they celebrated the very first mass in Philippine soil. On Jubilate Sunday (third Sunday of Easter) April 14 of the same year, Fr. Pedro Valderrama, the chaplain of Magellan, baptized Rajah Humabon and more than 500 natives after reaching the island of Zubu (Cebu). By the early Filipinos’ profession of faith in Christ, united with the Spanish voyagers in the same belief, and celebration of the Lord’s Supper, they became the first Christian community thereby laying the foundation of the Church. Queen Juana, the wife of Humabon, was presented with the statue of the Sto. Niño (the Child Jesus) as a baptismal gift which prompted her deep reverence, thus, she became its first devotee. High-spirited were the first Filipino Christians in their newly found faith and with the miraculous healing of a sickly man cemented their conviction of its efficacy over their idols and promised to burn every pagan shrines they could find. Sadly, the Christian victory in Southeast Asia and the Philippines was met with an obstacle. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once said that whenever there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, “there is always an extra show of force by the anti-Spirit or the demonic,” especially in ecumenical councils. During Pentecost when the Universal Church was born, what came after was the persecution marked by the death of St. Stephen. Just few weeks after the Holy Spirit first touched the Filipino Christians in Cebu, there would be an unforeseen conflict in the nearby island of Mactan where Magellan would die and the rest of the Spanish survivors flee. Without pastors to enforce the faith, the early Cebuanos focused their sight on the Sto. Niño while others reverted, though not of their own fault. Patiently, the Holy Child stayed with natives for 44 years as if He refused to give up on another child, the infant Philippine Church. Indeed, the Child Jesus never abandoned the Filipinos as Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Rev. Andres de Urdaneta, in the galleon San Pedro, would later anchor in the same island in April of 1565. After a minor naval to shore skirmish with the natives, a soldier named Juan de Camuz discovered the miraculously unscathed Holy Icon from the burnt ruin of a house and encouraged the explorers to re-Christianize the island. Hence, the recovery of the Sto. Niño symbolized the recovery of a once lost and dying Christian community. By this time Tupas, the nephew of Humabon, was the rajah. He was one of the remnants of the church being previously baptized and would serve as the continuity after made friendship with the Spaniards and being re-admitted to the Catholic fold. This local church community would flourish and again precede in Christian tradition: after the finding of the Holy Image the first procession in the Philippines occurred, and later the territory became the first Christian city (Santissimo Nombre de Jesus) in the Far East dedicated to the blessed name of Jesus. The first Christian marriage in the country transpired that of Isabel (the newly baptized niece of Rajah Tupas) and Andres (the Greek caulker of Legazpi), their children then baptized representing the first infant baptisms. The very first Christian church was built near the fort (later reconstructed and elevated as the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Vitales) and a second church, also the first monastery, built on the site where the image of the Child Jesus was found (today’s Basilica del Sto. Niño). The Spaniards and the Cebuano natives celebrated the first distinctly Asian Christian feast dedicated the Holy Child on April 28, 1565. There was also the first confession and the last rites of an inhabitant. Undoubtedly, the first Christmas, Holy Week, and All Saints Day were observed in the island. It was here the Scripture was first read; also the first resistance against the Mohammedan advance from the south. The list of precedence would go on.
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