by Margaux Salcedo
St. Ezequiel Moreno celebrated the first mass ever in the town of Puerto Princesa in Palawan on March 10, 1872 or 150 years ago.
Augustinian Recollect Missionaries
The Augustinian Recollects worked in the missions of the Calamianes and Palawan Islands from 1623 to 1987. One of their young missionaries was Fr. Ezequiel Moreno, a very young missionary of the Order of Augustinian Recollects from Alfaro, La Rioja, Spain.
His first pastoral ministry assignment was to Calapan in Mindoro, but was appointed in 1872 by then Recollect prior provincial Fr. Mariano S. Cuartero as military chaplain and chief missionary to Puerto Princesa. He was only 23 years old.
St. Ezekiel Moreno, Military Chaplain and Chief Missionary to Puerto Princesa
In 1871, royal decrees in fact contained no specific provision for the designation of a missionary and chaplain but in an official communication by the governor general on February 12, 1872, the governor general acknowledged the need for one and even recommended the appointment of a Recollect missionary 'with the best possible qualifications so that, alongside the glorious Spanish flag, the standard of the Cross may be planted, and through the priest charged with such mission whom I am earnestly requesting from you, Spanish and Christian civilizations may work side by side and in concerted effort, fusing together as one and the same goal the glory of God and country."
In a letter dated February 16, 1872, Fr. Mariano Cuartero responded by formally notifying the governor-general Rafael de Izquierdo of his decision "to assign to that island (Puerto Princesa in Palawan) Father Ezekiel Moreno de la Virgen del Rosario and Father Antonio Muro de la Virgen del Pilar, presbyters of my Order, the former as missionary and military chaplain of the settlement of Puerto Princesa, the latter as coadjutor. I further inform Your Excellency that—if they are worthy of your approval—you may deign to convey this matter to the archbishop of this diocese ... and the bishop of Jaro (under which diocese then was Palawan) in order that these prelates may grant Father Ezekiel Moreno de la Virgen del Rosario the faculties required for the discharge of his ministry."
First Mass in Puerto Princesa
On March 10, 1872, Fr. Ezekiel Moreno celebrated the first mass in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
This first mass in Puerto Princesa was simple yet solemn. According to historian Emmanuel Luis A. Romanillos, “The first mass in the settlement of Puerto Princesa, was held at the site of the present cathedral on March 10, 1872 by Moreno, six days after the Spanish expedition arrived in the area on March 4, 1872. ... A wooden altar inside a hastily constructed covered structure was built the day before on a clearing. Colorful cloths draped on freshly cut branches and trees served as backdrop. Overlooking the mass-goers from the makeshift altar was the image of Our Lady of Montserrat brought to Palawan by the missionaries."
It was the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
In his biographical marker at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral in Puerto Princesa, St. Ezekiel Moreno is honored as one of the founders of Puerto Princesa, during his stint as the missionary, parish priest and military chaplain from 1872-1875:
“kabilang sa mga nagtatag ng Bayan ng Puerto Princesa bilang unang misyonero, kapelyan ng mga military at ng Colonya Penal.”
St. Ezekiel Moreno later became a bishop in Pinara and Pasto in Colombia.
Saint Ezequiel Moreno was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1992 and now venerated as a saint. He is popularly invoked as the patron of cancer patients.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa (AVPP) commemorates the first mass in Puerto Princesa on March 10, 2022 with a concelebrated mass to be led by Bishop Socrates Mesiona, vicar apostolic, at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral.
Prior to the Mass is a solemn procession from Princess Eulalia Park, the site where the very first mass is traditionally commemorated, to the Cathedral.
Bishop Socrates Mesiona says this celebration is one way of extending gratitude to the first missionaries who brought the Gospel in the province.