Most Americans are at least tangentially aware of the persecution that Irish and Italian Catholics faced in mostly Protestant America during the late 19th Century. But few, if any, have heard about the horrific persecution of a group of Native Americans from northwestern Florida who were murdered because they had converted to Catholicism.
Members of the Apalachee Indian Tribe were not born Catholic, but thousands converted thanks to the efforts of Spanish missionaries in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Hear the stories of their conversion and martyrdom in the next episode of “They Might Be Saints,” an EWTN Original Docudrama, which premieres at 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, June 6 (with encores at 3:30 a.m. ET and 10 a.m. ET, Thursday, June 7.
However, viewers will want to tune in at 8 a.m. ET, Wednesday, June 6 to hear Producer/Writer Michael O’Neill talk about his work on the Martyrs of La Florida during a special “EWTN Live.”
“This is a situation where the English, who were Protestant and seeking to settle new land, enlisted several other tribes who were offended by this conversion, in an effort to kill the Spanish missionaries and the Apalachee Indians,” O’Neill says. “Overall, more than 2,000 Apalachees were put to death, and 86 have currently been identified as having been killed out of hatred of the Catholic faith [“in odium fidei” in Latin].
“Spanish missionaries recorded these stories of men, women, and children who died protecting the Eucharist and defending the Faith. In this day and age, we see people losing their faith left and right, but here you have this incredible example of people of all ages giving up their lives for the Faith.”
Those murdered include Antonio Cuipa and his companions. Cuipa was a Catholic leader, evangelist, musician and a spiritual mentor to the Apalachees.
“He was crucified for his faith,” O’Neill said. “In one of the big moments of the [hour-long] episode, Antonio has a vision of the Virgin Mary as he’s dying on the cross. With great sacrifice and courage, he gave instruction from the cross to his people and encouraged them in their faith.”
O’Neill, a Stanford University-educated cradle Catholic, became familiar with the stories of the Martyrs of La Florida because of his work on Marian apparitions as the so-called “Miracle Hunter,” and his corresponding website, www.miraclehunter.com. He initially wanted to do a series of programs for EWTN on different types of miracles but found the combination of the stories of future saints and the search for canonization miracles to resonate particularly well with people.
“I’ve done a lot of research on the Americans being considered for sainthood here in the U.S.,” he said. “On a list, I saw The Martyrs of La Florida. I didn’t realize there were ANY martyrs in the United States. I immediately reached out to the cause [for canonization) and found out they were ready to get this news out as well.”
O’Neill says people love the unknown stories of Americans on the path to sainthood, which he has uncovered.
“We all struggle with how to bring the faith to our family, friends, and coworkers – and these people [whose cause for canonization is being considered] have done it. When people watch this, they will feel energized to defend their faith, if they haven’t before!”