Guiuan marks 500 years of Cross arrival

Guiuan, Eastern Samar—Filipino and Spanish officials are looking forward to yet another 500 years of strong collaboration in the Christian faith and other areas to strengthen bilateral cooperation as Manila and Madrid started marking Tuesday the quincentennial celebration of the arrival of the Cross in this town facing the Pacific Ocean.

Guiuan marks 500 years of Cross arrival
FOR YEAR 500. Fr. Neil Tenefrencia celebrates mass on Homonhon Island in Eastern Samar on Wednesday to mark the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and Christianity in the country. Alren Beronio/ABS-CBN

“We commemorate the arrival, the discovery – not of the country, not of the Philippines – of the astonishing beauty of the country, humanity of its people,” said the Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines Jorge Moragas Sanchez during the launching of the Guiuan Museum design and the Quincentennial Commemorative Exhibit on Tuesday.

“In that critical time when Magellan’s men were starving, dying, out of water — then the first (human) touch took place, between the Spanish expeditioners and the people of Suluan who brought (food and water for) them, served them good food, fish coco liquor,” added the ambassador.

Guiuan, as second class town, played a significant part in Philippine history. In the 16th century, when Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, sailing under the flag of Spain, discovered for Europe the Philippines, some historical accounts said he first landed on the island of Homonhon, which lies within this town.

During the Second World War, Guiuan served as one of the naval bases for the Allies commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.Now all that is left of the American occupation are concrete slabs which once served as the foundations of a vast supply depot, and an air strip, which now serves as the town’s own airport.

The first touch

In Tuesday’s event, Sanchez also cited how the coco liquor offered by Guiuan Mayor Analiz Kwan reminded him of the same offer to the foreign visitors on the island 500 years ago.

“The first touch defines in a way what I feel we should commemorate tomorrow and the day after — the first touch between our people that will inspire us for the next 500 years,” the ambassador said

“We are showing the world our history of kindness, our history of humanity as our ancestors from Suluan island offered food and water to the tired, sick and weary men of Magellan, 500 years ago,” added Kwan during the history-sharing ceremony.

According to the town mayor, they were “pleased and honored” to host the commemoration, saying, “It took so long for us to be visited by the Spanish Embassy, the President, this is such a big event.”

To dramatize the commemoration, the Spanish Navy Training Ship Juan Sebastian Elcano also dropped anchor at the same waters in Guiuan where the Magellan-Elcano expedition had its first contact with the natives, later to be called Filipinos, exactly 500 years ago.

Local residents also held a fluvial parade during the arrival of the Spanish vessel which had been tracing the route of the first circumnavigation of the world in 1521 since October 2020.

The Elcano ship will leave for Cebu City on March 20 for a similar activity.

“We are celebrating victory and humanity,” said Ian Christopher Alfonso of the National Quincentennial Commission (NQC).

On March 16, NQC officials also led in the unveiling of the historical marker which recognized the role of Suluan Island in Guiuan in the first circumnavigation of the world.

The Suluan Quincentennial Marker is the first of 34 historical markers mounted along the route of the first circumnavigation that took place in the Philippines, according to the Philippine Information Agency.

On March 17, local officials and visitors unveiled the historical marker in Homonhon Island.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte is set to unveil another historical marker in Barangay Ngolos, Guiuan on March 18.

The marker will identify the country’s role in the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world.

The event will be attended by Ambassador Sanchez, NQC Chairperson and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) Chairperson and concurrent NQC Executive Director Rene Escalante, and other national and local officials.

On March 31, the Catholic church and government officials will also lead in the commemoration of the First Easter Sunday Mass in the Philippines in Limasawa Island, Southern Leyte.

Monsignor Oscar Cadayona, Vicar General of the Diocese of Maasin, said the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Charles John Brown is “the highest church official in the Philippines” to grace the quincentennial celebration in Limasawa.

Leyte-based historian Dr. Rolando Borrinaga earlier said the decision of NHCP on its position favoring Limasawa where the historic mass took place “provides sweet vindication for my nearly 20-year-old research and advocacy that Mazaua-Limasawa and that the 1521 Easter Sunday Mass (previously termed as the ‘First Mass’) was held in the vicinity of the present Barangay Triana in western Limasawa, Southern Leyte, and not in Butuan in Mindanao.”

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the Church Historians’ Association of the Philippines also adopted the position that the Holy Eucharist was first celebrated in Limasawa while rejecting other claims.

Hospitable Samar

Samar historian Charo Nabong Cabardo, in her documentary “The hospitable shores of Samar during Magellan’s landfall”, said Explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his 237-man team left Seville, Spain on August 10, 1519 onboard five ships–San Antonio, Concepcion, Santiago, Victoria, and Trinidad.

“Only one, Victoria, was able to complete its circumnavigation of the world, arriving in Seville on September 9, 1522. (Four months earlier, San Antonio, which deserted the expedition in April, arrived in Spain.),” she wrote.

“Of the 237 men that accompanied Magellan, only 18 survived the voyage that has been hailed as the first circumnavigation of the globe. They had also fulfilled their mission, finding the western route to Moluccas, the ‘Spice Island,’” she added.

The expedition’s chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, wrote a detailed story of their exploration after he survived the journey.

While braving the seas for more than a year as they traveled from Seville, Spain to navigate the western route along Africa, South America, they finally began their journey through the Pacific Ocean on November 28, 1520 and sailed through this sea for three months and 20 days.

“The sea was so calm; they did not even encounter any storm. Because of this they named the ocean, ‘Pacifico,’ which is Spanish for peaceful. During those three months, they did not see any land from which they could get provisions, thus they suffered from hunger and thirst. Many had died and still many had succumbed to scurvy,” Cabardo wrote.

In his own account, Pigafetta narrated: “Wednesday, the twenty-eighth of November, 1520 … we entered into the Pacific sea, where we remained three months and twenty days without taking in provisions or other refreshments … We ate biscuit which was no longer biscuit, but powder of biscuits, swarming with worms, and stank … strongly of the urine of rats. We drank yellow water that had been putrid for many days. We also ate some ox hides … which had become exceedingly hard because of the sun, rain and wind … often we ate sawdust from boards. Rats were sold for one-half ducado apiece and even then we could not get them. But above all misfortunes, the following was the worst. The gums of both the lower and upper teeth of some of our men swelled, so that they could not eat under any circumstances and therefore died. Nineteen men died from that sickness (scurvy). Twenty-five or thirty men fell sick in the arms, legs or in another place, so that but few remained well.”

However, at the dawn of Saturday of March 16, 1521, the Magellan expedition came upon an island called “Zamal” (Samar).

Magellan and his team disembarked and stayed more than a week (starting on March 17) on an island called Homunu (Homonhon), wherein they exchanged gifts with the local folks.

It is believed that during this time that the Magellans’ team spread the “Faith of God” and convert the local settlers.

“On the 25th of March, they went on with their fateful journey from Limasawa, to Cebu, and Mactan where they encountered friendship and hostilities,” Cabardo added.

However, Magellan met his tragic death in Mactan at the hands of Lapu-Lapu and his men.

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