Many know of the famous North American Martyrs, however, not many know of other martyrs in our nation’s history. This will hopefully no longer be the case as the cause for canonization of 82 martyrs from Florida will be opened on October 12, 2015. The martyrs, who will be known as Antonio Cuipa and 81 companions, were a diverse group of missionaries and Native Americans killed between 1549 and 1706 in Florida.
Antonio Cuipa was an Apalachee Indian from San Luis Mission (Tallahassee) converted by Franciscan missionaries. His studies suggest that he may have been preparing for the priesthood. His studies were cut short, however, when Creek Indians hired by an English governor from the Carolinas nailed him to a cross and set him on fire. Witnesses to the event claim that Antonio saw the Blessed Virgin Mary while dying on the cross.
There are many religious among the martyrs including Dominican, Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries. The first Dominican martyr in the country, Fr. Luis Cancer, was killed near Tampa Bay. Fr. Pedro Martinez was the first Jesuit killed in the country and had been sent by St. Francis Borgia to Florida where he was killed by Native Americans when he refused to abandon his companions.
Attempts for the canonization of the martyrs has occurred in the past, however, they have been stalled by events such as World War II. The current campaign began ten years ago when three friends visited the site where several martyrs were killed and agreed to establish a shrine. After organizing a team to aid them, the cause to canonize the martyrs took on new life, though money is needed to proceed in both the construction of the shrine and canonization process.
Antonio Cuipa and 81 companions give insight into the history of the Church in America and displays how many suffered to spread the faith. With many people facing persecution around the world today, the heroic martyrs of Florida serve as inspiration and takes on special significance as the Church continues to spread the Good News.