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The Catholic Defender: Saint Devasahayam Pillai

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.

Neelakandan Pillai was born into an affluent Hindu family in 1712. As a young man he went into the service of the royal household in India’s Travancore province.

Born Neelakanda Pillai in the year 1712 at Nattalam in Kanyakumari district, he converted to Christianity in the year 1745. Seven years later, he was paraded on a buffalo and was shot dead at Aralvaimozhi on Jan. 14, 1752. He was tortured for three years ahead of his execution on charges of treason.

Eventually put in charge of state affairs, Pillai became acquainted with Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, the Dutch naval commander who trained the king of Travancore’s forces.

Their relationship awakened Pillai’s interest in the captain’s Christian faith. At his baptism in 1745, Pillai chose the name Lazarus, or Devasahayam in the Malayalam language. His wife and other members of his family were baptized at the same time.

Soon after, Pillai’s enemies convinced the royal court that he was using his position to force others to convert, leading to his imprisonment.

European Christians in Travancore came to Pillai’s defense, urging the king to release him. After three years the king complied under condition that Pillai go into exile to a hostile territory.

Though beaten and tortured almost daily, Pillai consistently responded with kindness, openly praying for his captors.

According to the Church, he was persecuted for practicing his faith and was martyred. Intriguingly, there are not many visible signs of religious persecution in the kingdom in those days. Syrian Catholics had been living in southern Kerala since the second century. Syrian Catholics trace their conversion to St Thomas who was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus.

One among the many of the Tortures the Servant of God went through is that he was taken by walk from place to place and on buffalo back. Thirst is another way of torture they put him into. The Servant of God was brought to a small place called Puliyoorkurichy where he was placed on a rock. He was overcome by thirst and being refused. Instead he was given sewage water. He prayed to God weeping, and hit the rock with his elbow, which gave forth water in a miraculous way he could drink.

On his way, seated on a buffalo he was brought to this place. Due to the various torture he suffered he felt very thirsty. He requested the soldiers for some water to drink. He could not drink the filthy water given to him. Kneeling down on this rock he prayed to Jesus. He hit the rock with his elbow. what a wonder! A miraculous fountain appeared on the rock and water gushed out. He drank it and continued his journey. Today people drink this miraculous water and get God's healing. This rock is called Muttidichanparai.

This rock continues even today to give water and even now people visit this fountain in large numbers.

Shot to death by local soldiers in 1752, Pillai’s body was transported to St. Xavier Church in Kottar. Later when his remains were interred beneath the altar, the site became a popular pilgrimage destination.

In 2012, Devasahayam Pillai became the first Indian layman not connected to any religious institute to be beatified. Ten years later he was canonized in Rome. His liturgical feast is celebrated on January 14.

Most of the saints from India are Europeans. Even in the case of Indians, they are ordained people. But Devasahayam was not a clergyman. His elevation to Sainthood means a lot to local people.

The miracle of resuscitating a foetus in the 20th week of pregnancy attributed to Devasahayam Pillai was recognized by Pope Francis in 2014, clearing the path to his canonization in 2022. Earlier in 2016, the Pope had recognized one such miracle by Mother Teresa to clear her way to sainthood.

A miracle attributed to Devasahayam Pillai was recognised by Pope Francis in 2014, clearing the path to his canonisation in 2022. "While preaching, he particularly insisted on the equality of all people, despite caste differences. This aroused the hatred of the higher classes, and he was arrested in 1749.

was a Brahmin of the Nair caste in India. Converted to Catholicism by a Jesuit priest in 1745, Devasahayam Pillai took the name Lazarus when he became a Christian. In his preaching, he particularly insisted on the equality of all peoples, despite caste differences.

This aroused the hatred of the higher classes, and he was arrested in 1749. After enduring increasing hardships, he received the crown of martyrdom when he was shot on 14 January 1752. Blessed Lazarus is the first lay person from India to be canonized.

On May 15, Pope Francis canonized Blessed Devasahayam Pillai (1712 – 1752) from Tamil Nadu as saint at a grand event that started with the singing of the Mother Tamil song (Thamizh Thai Vaazhthu) in Vatican. Saint Devasahayam Pillai is the first lay Indian to be canonized as saint.


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