By Bernard Lantaca

Butuan City is the rapidly developing center of the Caraga region, located at the northeastern part of the Agusan Valley. Based on the 2015 census, it has a population of 337,063; 81% of them are Catholics. The name “Butuan” is believed to have originated from the local sour fruit called “batuan”. But other etymological sources say that it is from Datu Buntuan, a chieftain who once ruled these areas.

When the Spaniards came in the 16th century, the people were already living in well-organized independent villages called barangays. Barangay is derived from “balangay,” an Austronesian sail-boat used by the early settlers. Every year, the Balanghai Festival commemorates the coming of these early migrants.

Participating boats of the St. Joseph fluvial parade on May 16, 2013, are dwarfed by Butuan City’s iconic suspension bridge. Photo by Erwin Mascarinas.

During the American occupation, in 1908, Bishop Thomas Hendrick of Cebu, through St. Pius X, requested the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) to serve the missions of Surigao and Butuan.

On March 20, 1967, the Diocese of Butuan was created comprising of the civil provinces of Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur. Its titular patron is St. Joseph and its First Bishop was Mgr. Carmelo Morelos. Presently, the diocese is headed by Bishop Juan de Dios M. Pueblos. It is a suffragan to the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro.

Fr. Marc Vernoy was the first SSPX priest to visit this city in 1997. He founded a Mass Center calling it Santa Lucia Mission. But the Mass schedule was very irregular. Then, various SSPX priests visited at least five times a year. Meanwhile, the faithful stormed heaven by their prayers, novenas and sacrifices so that they can have a monthly Mass. On June 30, 2002, Barangay Captain Jesus Rodriguez and his Councilors consecrated Barangay Mahogany to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the presence Fr. Carlo Magno Saa. On December 13 that year, feast of St. Lucy, 3 couples regularized their marriage at our chapel.

Finally, God answered their prayers! Fr. Joseph Lester started coming to Butuan every month. He even made some improvements to the chapel. The leaky roof was replaced and the flooring was elevated to avoid flooding. On September 2006, Bishop Richard Williamson administered the Sacrament of Confirmation. He was the first SSPX Bishop to visit Butuan.

Banza Church Ruins

Old Santa Lucia Chapel

Consecration of the Barangay to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Children’s Sunday Catechism

Butuan’s Local Pilgrimage 2016

From Sta. Lucia Chapel — Banza Church Ruins — St. Joseph Cathedral — Sto. Nino Shrine, and finally at Masao

Photos by: Jessa Claire Cabusao & Bernadette Villaruel