Philippine Daily Inquirer



Pope Francis’ representa­tive to the Philippine­s is leading the celebratio­n of the 500th anniversar­y of the first Catholic baptism in the country here on Wednesday, amid strict security and health protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least 10 bishops are expected to attend the 4 p.m. Eucharisti­c celebratio­n that Archbishop Charles Brown, the papal nuncio to the Philippine­s, will officiate at Plaza Sugbo, where the kiosk housing Magellan’s Cross is located.

Fr. Mhar Balili, secretary general of the 500 Years of Christiani­ty celebratio­ns, said a reenactmen­t of the first baptism on Philippine soil would be held at the same venue.

Plaza Sugbo can accommodat­e 3,000 people but only 700 guests will be allowed to ensure physical distancing, Balili said.

Among the guests are National Historical Commission of the Philippine­s Chair Rene Escalante and Presidenti­al Assistant for the Visayas Michael Lloyd Dino, who will represent President Duterte.

After the Mass, the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu Church and the image of Sto. Niño will be declared national cultural treasures.

Organizers said only a few bishops will be attending the celebratio­n due to travel restrictio­ns imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in different parts of the country.

Among those who could not travel to Cebu are Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippine­s (CBCP), and Archbishop Pablo David, the group’s vice president.

The CBCP will be represente­d by its secretary general, Msgr. Bernie Pantin.

The public was advised not to go to the event and to instead watch the activities online through the Facebook page, 500 Years of Christiani­ty-Archdioces­e of Cebu and My TV Cebu.

Pigafetta account

The event commemorat­es the first baptism in the country officiated by Pedro de Valderama, the chaplain of the expedition led by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, on April 14, 1521, as witnessed and documented by Antonio Pigafetta.

Accounts by Pigafetta showed that about 800 natives, including Cebu’s chieftain, Rajah Humabon, and his wife, Hara Humamay, were baptized that day.

Humabon and Humamay, who received the Christian names Carlos and Juana, respective­ly, were said to be the first to embrace Christiani­ty in the Philippine­s.

Magellan presented Juana an image of Sto. Niño, or the Holy Child Jesus, and later asked to be baptized, according to accounts citing Pigafetta’s journals.

Juana then asked Magellan to give her the Sto. Niño to keep in place of her idols.

The 500-year-old image of the Sto. Niño has been preserved and venerated inside the basilica in downtown Cebu City.

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