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LIMASAWA, Southern Leyte, April 6 (PIA) -- Officials from various level in the public sector mingled and rubbed elbows with leaders of the Catholic Church last week, March 31, to mark an event that happened on an Easter Sunday in this island-town exactly 500 years ago, the ceremony of a Holy Mass.

Joining the government and church dignitaries were the faithful, pilgrims and visitors, who followed minimum health standard protocols as a safety measure against the spread of COVID-19 virus, and braved torrential rains caused by a low pressure area in Mindanao in order to physically attend the event.

Participants to the once-in-a-lifetime celebration were limited to 500 individuals, with church and government side taking half each of the agreed number, and, as of this writing, it was not clear if this was followed to the letter, judging from the sizeable crowd that gathered even at social distancing.

The historic moment of repeating history itself on the very same place 500 years way back would have been led by a top church diplomat, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, but the situation in Manila led the foreign affairs’ office to disallow trips of the diplomatic corps.

“We would have welcomed the Apostolic Nuncio who was supposed to come, but until yesterday he called me up . . . he was not able to come because of a DFA bulletin requesting all embassies to restrict their travel. But he is present through his message,” Bishop Precioso Cantillas of the host diocese, the Diocese of Maasin, announced before his homily.

Among the men of the cloth who were present and acknowledged by Bishop Cantillas were the Archbishop of Palo, John Du, Archbishop Emeritus Francesco Panfilo of Papua New Guinea, Bishop Oscar Florencio, from the military ordinariate of Palo, Leyte, Bishop Noli Buco, auxiliary bishop of Antipolo diocese, who hailed from San Francisco, Southern Leyte, and Msgr. Bernardo Pantin, CBCP representative.

From the government side were Limasawa Mayor Melchor Petracorta and other mayors, Cong. Roger Mercado, Gov. Damian Mercado and other provincial officials, Karen Tiopes, regional director of the DOT, and USEC Anthony Gerard Gonzales of the office of presidential assistant for the visayas (OPAV).

“On behalf of the President, Rodrigo Duterte, please accept my warmest congratulations to the Catholic faithful for this milestone,” Gonzales said in the short program following the Eucharistic celebration.

“Accept as well the warm greetings from the National Quincentennial Committee chaired by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea which yours truly is representing,” he added.

In his homily, Bishop Cantillas recalled that the light of faith began in Limasawa island as our unsuspecting ancestors “willingly participated the celebration that felt the presence of Christ, the same celebration (we do) today.” (mmp/PIA8-Southern Leyte)