KANNIYAKUMARI: When Pope Francis canonises Devasahayam Pillai at St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City on Sunday, the Hindu man who converted to Catholicism in Kanniyakumari in 1745, will become the first layman to attain Sainthood from India. Devasahayam Pillai, who took the name ‘Lazarus’ in 1745, was first approved for sainthood in February 2020 for enduring increasing hardships after he decided to embrace Christianity, the Vatican had said.
Tamil Nadu Ministers T Mano Thangaraj and Gingee KS Masthan and State Minorities Commission chief Peter Alphonse have reached Rome to take part in the canonisation of the Tamil Nadu’s first Catholic Saint.
According to a report prepared by the Diocese of Kottar, “Nilakandan (Devasahayam’s birth name) was born to Vasudevan Namputhiri, a Brahmin, and Devahi Amma, a Nair woman, on April 23, 1712, at Nattalam village in the present Kanniyakumari district. He was trained in archery and use of other weapons.
Nilakandan went on to learn Tamil and Malayalam, and landed a job at the Travancore Kingdom palace. “Attached to the royal administration, Nilakandan came in contact with Eustachius Benedictus De Lannoy, a Dutch military officer, who was arrested by King Marthanda Varma after the Dutch were defeated in the Battle of Colachel in 1741.”
De Lannoy taught him about the Catholic faith, and Nilakandan expressed a desire to embrace Christianity. On May 14, 1745, Father Giovanni Baptista Buttari baptised him and rechristened him as Lazarus or ‘Devasahayam’ in the local language, meaning ‘God is my help’. He began to evangelise in the region and spoke vehemently against caste oppression.
As his conversion did not go well with some people, false charges of treason and espionage were brought against him and he was divested of his post in the royal administration. He was imprisoned and subjected to persecution. After seven years of life as a Catholic, Devasahayam was shot dead at Kattadimalai on January 14, 1752.
His mortal remains were buried on St Francis Xavier Church premises at Kottar. Devasayam Mount Parish Priest A Bright said he was declared a Servant of God in 2003, and the Vatican accorded him martyr status in 2012.
“The process of canonisation received a definite direction in 2014 when the then Bishop of Kottar received information of a miraculous intercession of Blessed Martyr Devasahayam. In the previous year, a woman’s 24-week fetus was declared dead by doctors. The shocked mother prayed to the martyr and drank water from the well of Devasahayam’s house in Nattalm. Within an hour, the mother felt better and underwent another scan.
The doctors this time detected the fetus heartbeat and the mother’s condition became stable. Three months later, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” the Kottar Diocese said. Diocese of Kottar Vicar General Father Hilarius said that the miracle was proved and documented.
Declared a Servant of God in 2003
The Vatican gave him martyr status in 2012