Missionary Sending

American Eucharistic Witnesses: Servant of God Antonio Inija

To help pave the way to the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–21, 2024, we are thrilled to present the American Eucharistic Witnesses. These are holy men and women who lived, loved, and served on the very soil upon which we now stand. They all testify—in unique and powerful ways—to what it means to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist and go on mission with him for the life of the world. Each month through July 2024, we will feature a new witness. Old and young, men and women, representing different cultural families and vocations, these men and women show us—in living color—what holiness looks like. We are also thrilled to partner with American artist Connor Miller, who is creating an original woodcut print of each witness to help us visually engage with this creative new series.

Antonio Inija woodcut print by Connor Miller

In the introduction of the 2019 publication of The Martyrs of La Florida: A Heroic Story of Catholic Faith, Bishop William A. Wack, CSC, of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee writes:

“On January 26, 1704, a Native American man named Antonio was tied to a large cross at the mission of La Concepcion de Ayubale, near modern-day Tallahassee, and burned to death. This beloved and capable leader of the Apalachee people was burned alive from sunrise to sunset on that winter day. All the while he suffered, he spoke in native tongues with boldness from his cross. Rather than the customary words vowing vengeance on his captors, Antonio preached his faith in God and warned his tormentors about their sin. Antonio longed to be with God in heaven. An apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary sustained him in his final moments. It was her eyes, he said, which gave him strength.”

The faith that took root in Servant of God Antonio Inja was planted deep in him by his parents, the flowing baptismal waters of the Church, and the Gospel-sacrifices of the many Dominican, Jesuit, and Franciscan missionaries that bathed the Floridian soil with their blood before him. There is no doubt that the many hours Antonio spent before the Blessed Sacrament strengthened his spiritual life. His disciplined spiritual exercises were built on frequent Mass attendance, prayer, reflection, charity, and devotional life such as the holy Rosary. For Antonio, there could be no life in this world apart from Jesus and his Eucharistic Presence. “The Eucharist is the sacrament of love: it signifies love, it produces love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

Monstrance on an altar with plants below it and bright windows behind it

A Powerful, Everyday Witness to Jesus

As we peer into the life and faith of Antonio, we are conscious that his witness to Jesus speaks volumes, not only to his own people of his day, but to Christians and Native peoples across the centuries. Antonio was born and raised as a Christian at Mission San Luis, the largest Apalachee mission in La Florida, with a population of approximately eight thousand Christian Natives. His reputation was one of being an extraordinary leader. In fact, he was known as the Inija, the second only to the chief. He was an ordinary man who lived life in an extraordinary way: through the lens of faith. He tended to his duties and obligations to his family, his faith, and his community. He carried himself in humility. He offered his assistance to all in need of his help. Antonio was a man of prayer and Christian service.

In addition to his Native tongue, Antonio was a gifted and articulate man who could read and write in Latin and Spanish. From time to time, as a Native American leader, he was invaluable to the Franciscans in their evangelization efforts and missionary zeal as they shared the Gospel message with the people. His unassuming and joyful demeanor drew him to evangelize others daily by word and example. He was always conscious of the importance of prayer, worship, praise, and faithfulness to Jesus and the Church. Loving God was always in the forefront of his mind and woven into the fabric of his humanity.

Reconstructed Franciscan church at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, Florida
Reconstructed Franciscan church at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, Florida

His Christian faith guided his every moment, and his love for God stood out in every way, especially his love for Jesus in the Eucharist. He was a man who had a kind heart, always listening to the voice of Jesus and willing to graciously share the goodness of faith and the person of Jesus with others. He invited the suffering and risen Jesus to direct his every step, every day of his life. In many ways, he was like St. Joseph: loving, faithful, prudent, wise, sacrificial, and devout. Because there are no written documents related to the life and martyrdom of Antonio from his fellow Christians of the time, we must rely on secular historical records. We can only imagine how his faith touched the depths of the hearts of many Native people in his tribe, as well as the Spanish soldiers and missionaries who were also moved by his faith and goodness.

An Example of Faith to Follow

The life and witness of Antonio’s Catholic faith encourages us to live for Jesus each day. Like him, we are to pray, hope, and trust more, especially when difficult times and trials come our way. Our faithfulness to Jesus is pleasing to him. We see in Antonio’s life a continuous example of devotion to our Eucharistic Lord, no matter the situation. His suffering on the cross—his body being burned to death—testifies to his love.

Most of us will not be tested like Antonio to shed our blood through great suffering, as he endured the cross and the fire, but all of us are called to die to ourselves in little ways by self-denial, small sacrifices, fasting, penance, or giving up a special dessert or a movie we really want to see. The little ways we sacrifice for God pleases him greatly and helps us grow in grace and holiness. Yes, we all should desire to follow the example of Antonio!

A cross in the left foreground with a sunset and mountain in the background

The next time you go to Mass or visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, remember Antonio, who spent many hours praising Jesus in the holy Eucharist. Imitate him. This should be our goal: to love Jesus more and more in the Eucharist. St. Augustine reminds us that each time we receive Jesus in holy communion, Jesus doesn’t become like us—we become more and more like him. Ask Jesus to become more and more like him in imitation of Antonio.

We find in the Gospel of St. John: “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever; and the Bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My Flesh” (Jn 6:51). In every respect, Antonio Inija is an authentic witness to the holy Eucharist.

May Antonio, martyr for Christ, chosen by the Virgin, evangelist, teacher, leader, and faithful son of the Church, one day be raised to the altar. Beginning today, let us each strive to imitate the Eucharistic faith and love for Jesus that Antonio possessed!

Reverend W.C. Paysse is the Vice Postulator for the Martyrs of La Florida.