Pope Francis canonised Devasahayam Pillai, who was born a Hindu but embraced Christianity in the 18th century, during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday
Devasahayam Pillai, who was born a Hindu but embraced Christianity in the 18th century, was canonised by Pope Francis during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday, making Blessed Devasahayam the first Indian layman to be declared a saint by the Vatican.
A layman is one who is not a member of the Catholic clergy.
Along with Blessed Devasahayam, Pope Francis canonised nine others at the Canonisation Mass, which was attended by over 50,000 people from across the world, including government delegations.
The nine others who were proclaimed as saints by the Pope included Cesar de Bus, Titus Brandsma, Giustino Maria Russolillo, Luigi Maria Palazzolo and Charles de Foucauld, Maria of Jesus Santocanale, Maria Rivier, Maria Francesca of Jesus Rubatto and Maria Domenica Mantovani.
The Vatican had in 2004 recommended the process of beatification of Devasahayam Pillai at the request of the Kottar diocese, Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council and the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, PTI reported.
Who is Devasahayam Pillai?
Devasahayam, who was known as Neelakanta Pillai earlier, was born on April 23, 1712. He hailed from a Hindu upper caste family in Nattalam village in Kanyakumari district, then a part of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom. Pillai worked in the court of Marthanda Varma of Travancore as an official, where he met with a Dutch naval commander. He was instructed into the Catholic faith by the Dutch naval commander and baptised in 1745. Pillai then assumed the name ‘Lazarus’ or Devasahayam in Malayalam, which means ‘God is my help’, the PTI report said.
According to a note by the Vatican in February 2020, his conversion was not well accepted by the heads of the Hindu religion and caused a stir when he refused to renounce his new religion. He was accused of treason and espionage and had to forgo his job at the royal administration, Indian Express reported quoting the Vatican note.
Devasahayam preached for the equality of all people, despite caste differences, which piqued “the hatred of the higher classes”. He was arrested in 1749. After enduring increasing hardships, he was shot dead in the Aralvaimozhy forest on January 14, 1752, Indian Express reported.
Considered a martyr, Devasahayam’s mortal remains were interred inside the present-day Saint Francis Xavier’s Cathedral in Kottar, Nagercoil.
Process of canonisation
The process of sainthood in the Catholic Church is a rigorous one and takes several years. The process starts at the level of the diocese to which the candidate belongs.
In the case of Devasahayam, the Vatican had given clearance to the Diocese of Kottar on December 22, 2003 to start working on the cause of Devasahayam’s martyrdom at the local level. Between 2006 and 2008, a diocesan inquiry took place which conferred Devasahayam with the title of “Servant of God”. The diocese of Kottar, Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council and Conference of Catholic Bishops Conference of India together recommended Devasahayam for beatification in 2004.
On November 15, 2011, the documents were submitted to the Vatican under the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for evaluation by the historical consultors. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints concluded that there was enough evidence to demonstrate the martyrdom of Devasahayam.
The following year, on February 7, 2012, a special meeting of theological consultors was conducted to consider the historical reliability of the documents collected. The documents demonstrated that there was “odium fidei” (hatred of the faith) on the part of the persecutors, which was accepted by Devasahayam.
On May 8, 2012, an ordinary session of cardinals and bishops gave its approval for the beatification. Almost 300 years after his birth, the layman Devasahayam was declared blessed by the Kottar diocese in 2012.
To clear a person for canonisation or final sainthood, a miracle through a candidate’s intercession is required. Devasahayam is attributed the miracle of resuscitating a 20-week-old foetus of a pregnant woman. According to a report by Vatican News, an enquiry was initiated regarding a possible miracle in the Diocese of Kottar. On February 28, 2019, the medical board which examined the case unanimously declared that the healing could not be explained in current medical terms. The Congregation conducted a special meeting of the theological consultors on December 5, 2019 and approved the miracle. The miracle was also approved by cardinals and bishops on February 18, 2020.
Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on February 21, 2020, to promulgate the decree officially and recognise the miracle, clearing Devasahayam for sainthood.
After clearing his name for sainthood in 2020, the Vatican dropped his surname ‘Pillai’ and referred to him as “Blessed Devasahayam”.
(Edited by : Sudarsanan Mani)