Photo: Aerial view of a portion of the road to Hāna
Aerial view of a portion of the road to Hāna. In the mid-19th century, Hawaiian Catholics were frequently persecuted for their faith. One story recalls how Hawaiians in Kahikinui were rounded up by sheriffs, bound to one another in ropes, and marched along the Hāna coastline 90 miles to Wailuku. - Courtesy Photo

Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

This is a sad story about those persecuted for their faith. This story is about Helio Koaʻeloa of Wailua, East Maui. He converted from Protestant Calvinism to Catholicism. Shortly after his conversion, he went to Honolulu to study his new religion. When he returned to Maui, he converted his younger brother, Peter Mahoe, before he could become a Protestant.

There were many Catholics living in Wailuku at the time. They were ordered by the government to build a Protestant church but they refused. Instead, they consented to fix the roads. When the government ordered them to send their children to the Protestant schools, however, they refused again. As a result, they were captured and bound and taken to Lāhaina.

The route was difficult and tiring in the hot sun. It was about 22 miles. They were only given bitter noni fruit and water to eat and drink. When they reached Lāhaina, Kauikeaouli, King Kamehameha III, happened to see the “prisoners” of Wailuku and released them. He would later issue an edict promoting religious tolerance. Due to this mistreatment, however, Catholics decided that when a member was persecuted for their faith they would join in.

At another time, the Protestant missionaries urged a judge by the name of Mahune to issue an order to arrest Catholics in Kahikinui. Therefore, sheriffs were sent to capture Helio and those who were converted by him. They began arresting Catholics in Kahikinui, two by two, bound unto a single rope.

They continued to Hāna, Koʻolau, Hāmākua and on to Wailuku some 90 miles away. The going was difficult and unsteady on the steep and unsteady roads. Because of the empathy of those along the way, the prisoners were fed and given water. To be truthful, many of these were family to those captured. Other sympathizers stepped forward to join the line and converted to Catholicism. Others volunteered to join the journey with the bound prisoners. They put on nice clothes and wore lei as if the procession of paʻakaula (as they were called) was a festivity.

Upon reaching Wailuku after a monthʻs time, the small group had swelled to nearly a hundred. The court could not imprison all of them. The judge was so overwhelmed that he released the paʻakaula without punishment. The missionaries wanted to stop Koaʻeloa’s evangelism but because of their accusations, the number of Catholics on Maui actually swelled. About 4,000 people entered into the Catholic faith because of Helio. Because of this, Helio was named the Apostle of Maui. The words of Jesus of Nazareth are written in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are the persecuted for they shall see the kingdom of God.”