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Devasahayam Set To Become First Indian Layperson Saint

The Catholic Church in India views the official declaration as a "historic moment", saying that Devashayam is testament that the Gospel is a treasure to be discovered. 

Blessed Lazarus, known as Devasahayam, is set to become India’s first layperson saint and martyr. He will be canonized along with 6 others on May 15, 2022.

The Catholic Church in India views the official declaration as a “historic moment”, saying that Devashayam is testament that the Gospel is a treasure to be discovered.

“To many of us who have received the faith from our forebears, Devasahayam’s testimony reminds us that the Gospel is a treasure to be discovered and to which devote a lifetime,” said Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai Diocese, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).   Blessed Lazarus, known as Devasahayam, became “poor for the sake of the poor and had love for the poor, as Pope Francis says,” he told AsiaNews.  The canonization “is an encouragement to us to emulate Devasahayam”. (Read: Pope Receives Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi)

Life of Devasahayam

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Neelakanta pillai was born in the year 1712, Maruthankulakarai at Nattalam in Kanyakumari Dist. His mothers name was Devaki amma and his Father Vasudevan Namputhiri. (Photo from blesseddevasahayampillai.blogspot.com)

Blessed Lazarus, also known as Devashayam, will be the first layperson and martyr of Indian origin who will be declared a saint of the Catholic Church. He was martyred nearly 270 years ago in what is Tamil Nadu state today.

He was born on April 23, 1712 as Neelakanda Pillai, in the village of Nattalam. He served in the palace of southern India’s Hindu King Marthanda Varma of Travancore. In 1741,  Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, a Dutch naval commander of the Dutch East India Company, was taken as prisoner when he failed to capture Travancore. The dutchman was pardoned and became the king’s trusted commander. He served alongside Devasahayam and there, the two became close friends.

Conversion and baptism

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Depiction at Padmanabhapuram Palace of De Lannoy’s surrender at the Battle of Colachel. (Photo from Wikipedia)

Devasahayam became interested in the faith of De Lannoy and he converted in 1745. He was baptized by Jesuit priest Father R. Bouttari Italus. He assumed the name ‘Lazarus’ or ‘Devasahayam’ in the local language, which means ‘God is my help.’ Soon after, his wife converted to the faith and was baptized Gnanapoo, meaning Theresa. (Read: Catholic Diocese In India To Provide Scholarships, Financial Aids)

Martyrdom

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Photo from blesseddevasahayampillai.blogspot.com

However, Devasahayam’s conversion did not go well, especially with the heads of his native religion. It was regarded as a betrayal to the Hindu Kingdom.

Devasahayam refused to worship the Hindu gods and renounced traditional Hindu religious festivals, which angered the officers. Moreover, he began preaching on the equality of all peoples, overcoming of castes, and friendship with the untouchables– an offense for a person of high caste.

He was charged with treason and espionage and stripped of his post in the royal administration. He was put to prison and persecuted. Finally, after being a Catholic for seven years, Devasahayam was killed iin the Aralvaimozy forest in 1752.

Recognition

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The Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Angelo Cardinal Amato declared Devasahayam Pillai a Martyr and Blessed on December 2, 2012, at a solemn ceremony held in the Diocese of Kottar at Carmel Higher Secondary School Grounds, Nagercoil, near the place of his burial. (Photo from blesseddevasahayampillai.blogspot.com)

In the Catholic Church, the sainthood cause of a candidate is a rigorous process that takes years and even decades.  It starts at the level of the diocese to which the candidate belongs. In the case of Devasahayam, there have been sporadic efforts and calls for his sainthood and martyrdom since 1756.

The Diocese of Kottar received clearance from the Vatican on December 22, 2003, to open the cause of Devasahayam’s martyrdom at the local level.  At the start of the diocesan inquiry which took place from 2006 to 2008, Devasahayam was conferred the title Servant of God. (Read: Charles de Foucauld to Become a Saint on 15 May)

On June 28, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree recognizing Devasahayam’s martyrdom. He was declared Blessed.

Miracle

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Photo from Blessed Devasahayam Pillai Blog

A miracle through a candidate’s intercession is needed for the person to be cleared for canonization or final sainthood.

In the case of Devasahayam, an enquiry was initiated in the Diocese of Kottar regarding a possible miracle. The Congregation described it as “the resuscitation of a 20-week-old fetus of an Indian pregnant lady”.  The medical board that examined the case, in 2019, declared that the healing could not be explained by current medical knowledge.

On December 5, 2019, a special meeting of the theological consultors of the Congregation approved the miracle. Cardinals and bishops, who met on February 18, 2020, also approved it.  Three days later, on February 21, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree officially recognizing the miracle, which effectively cleared Blessed Devasahayam for sainthood.

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