Thursday, March 31, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we tell how the Christian faith came to a group of Islands that were once an American protectorate.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 31st of March 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

So today, we finally look at Christianity in that one-time kingdom of Islands- also a former colony and protectorate of the United States…. That’s right- today, we look at the history of Christianity in the Philippines.

On the 31st of March in 1521, the first-ever Catholic Mass was held in the Philippines by the Augustinian priest and chaplain Pedro de Valderrama. Valderrama was with the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan on his famed circumnavigation of the globe.

(But you know he didn’t circumnavigate it, right? Not to be “that guy,” but he was killed in the Philippines shortly after the first mass- only one of the five ships and a handful of men made it all the way around. I digress)

Magellan’s story is fascinating by itself- he’s a tragic figure- He was Portuguese but explored for Spain. This is like growing up in Boston and becoming a hero on the Yankees. And then you got murdered by… a member of the Blue Jays, and the Yankee fans decided they don’t like you anymore.

A little back story- after Columbus’ first voyage and knowledge of the new World, the Pope decided to intervene on behalf of the two maritime powers- Spain and Portugal. This “Treaty of Tordesillas” split the world into two realms of influence. The Spaniards were the beneficiary- and maybe that's no surprise because Pope Alexander was Spanish himself. Magellan abandoning Portugal for Spain to help them navigate a better way to the Spice Islands was a slap in the face to his home country.

We have a first-hand account of the events leading up to the sighting of the Philippine Islands and the first mass, and the death of Magellan- these explorers knew that they should be recording what they were doing.

They spotted land on March 28th in 1521- this would be the island of Limasawa (the idea of calling this the “Philippines” was Magellan’s- in honor of Emperor Charles V, Spanish son and future Emperor Philip). The natives came out on a boat to meet the sailors and exchanged gifts. Seeing that they were friendly, Magellan ordered his men to disembark and told his chaplain to prepare to celebrate a Mass, as the coming Sunday was Easter Sunday.

A cross was planted, and the mass was said. From Limasawa, Magellan’s crew went to the island of Cebu, where they met with even more success. Here they were once again greeted; Magellan and the Raja performed a peace ritual (drinking their blood mixed with wine), Magellan gave the Raja a hand-carved statuette of the Christ child. Despite the tragic end of Magellan, this icon is still venerated by Philippino Catholics.

Magellan decided to roll more inland, and this is where he met Lapulapu- a local chief that did not roll out the red carpet- Magellan himself took a small force of 50 or 60 men to the island of Mactan. Here the armor of the Spaniards couldn’t overtake the people of Mactan- most of the Spaniards were killed, including Magellan. His chronicler was there but managed to escape.

Back in Cebu, the natives saw the bloodshed as a bad sign, so they killed many of the explorers and left a few scrambling to get out. On the run from the tribes and the Portuguese who were patrolling the seas for them, the once-mighty expedition straggled home with one ship and a handful of men.

Although the first mass was said, the Catholics were run out. But the statue they left behind was said to have survived disasters miraculously and was seen as a talisman. When Augustinians returned to what they called the Philippines in the 1560s, they had refined their missionary tactics- that and Spanish protection from Japanese and Muslim pirates helped the faith take root.

Today the Philippines is about 90% Christian, with the majority being Catholic (about 80%). The Philippines has the largest Christian population in all of Asia. They have the 3rd largest Catholic population in the world (behind Brazil and Mexico). They have the 5th largest population of Christians behind the two aforementioned countries, the United States and Russia.

And it began with a mass- the whole context of the event makes for a tragic story- but so it goes. The mass took place 501 years ago today on the 31st of March.

The Last Word for today comes from Romans 5 in the Common English Bible:

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. 3 But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope. 5 This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 31st of March 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who knows that the Philippines is home to the world’s largest snake and fish and the world’s smallest deer. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who loves and respects the people of Hawaii- he went on his honeymoon there, wants to go back… we’ll get to that story eventually. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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