Florida could have its very own martyrs, including indigenous people and missionaries

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The short list of saints of the United States is on its way to adding 58 martyrs. This group of both indigenous peoples and Spanish missionaries were killed for their faith between 1549 and 1715.

MICHAEL SHEEDY
Vice President, Martyrs of La Florida Missions

I think that the larger number are actually Native Americans. I think it's kind of exciting to show just the fruit of the evangelistic work in these people who, this was not just one that they accepted for political expediency or anything like that. They really embraced the faith. They lived it and they died for it. And I think that it's a testament to the missionary efforts, certainly of those who came and brought the Gospel to this part of the world, but also just those seeds that they sowed took root and really flourished here.

During that time, the Florida Mission included parts of Georgia, the Carolinas and Alabama. The lead martyr for the cause was part of the Apalachee tribe, which was located in modern-day Tallahassee. His name was Antonio Inija. His death at the hands of the English was meant to discourage other indigenous peoples from converting to Catholicism.

MICHAEL SHEEDY
Vice President, Martyrs of LaFlorida Missions

They really sought to make an example of him and somewhat humiliate them, create fear in him and so that the others would also lose heart and lose faith. But he was actually tied to a cross with a fire burning beneath him. And rather than being somewhat cowed by that, or humiliated by it, he actually was was emboldened. He had a vision of Our Lady from the cross that he spoke of who was giving him courage. And really, the effect was just to build everybody up in their faith.

Mission La Florida have the stories of these martyrs because the Spanish missionaries kept well-detailed and preserved historical records. And Sheedy says this is not the first time their cause was started.

MICHAEL SHEEDY
Vice President, Martyrs of LaFlorida Missions

We found that in the 1930s, early 1940s, there had been a group in United States that had begun to compile just this research to present the cause to Rome at that time. There's record of it, of that information being sent to Rome, Archbishop Gannon, a Pennsylvania bishop had kind of convened a group to do this. But there's nothing that ever got there, we don't think. It seems that in World War Two, perhaps the ship it was on was sunk. Who knows? But it was it was interesting to find that people had already embraced this.

While there are no physical relics of these early American martyrs, the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee is planning to build a shrine on the mission site to honor the legacy of these first Christians in the New World.

KG

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