By Robin Gomes
India’s Latin Rite bishops are planning a series of events to celebrate the life and holiness of the country’s first layman and martyr who will be officially declared a saint in 3 months. They present the figure of Blessed Devasahayam as a model for Christians in the country.
He was an 18th-century Indian Hindu convert to Catholicism who suffered martyrdom in 1752, in what is now the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He is among 7 candidates from around the world who will be officially declared saints by Pope Francis during a canonization mass at the Vatican on May 15, 2022.
Model for young people
“We have a wonderful opportunity here to tell the heroic story of our martyrdom, especially to our young people, who will be helped to bravely face the demands of Christian life and to bear witness today,” said the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI). said in a statement Wednesday.
“As Martyr Devasahayam, we have the first Indian who is acknowledged to have won the crown of martyrdom on Indian soil,” said the statement signed by CCBI President Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão of Goa and Daman, the Vice President. President Archbishop George Antonysamy of Madras-Mylapore and General Secretary Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi. “He is also the first layman and the first married man in India to be conferred sainthood. This canonization therefore has special significance for the Church in India,” they stressed.
Born on April 23, 1712, as Neelakanda Pillai, in the village of Nattalam, Devasahayam served in the palace of the Hindu kingdom of Travancore in southern India, which extended from what is now Kanyakumari district to Cochin in the state of Kerala.
At baptism in 1745, he took the name “Lazarus” or “Devasahayam” in the local language, meaning “God is my helper”. However, his conversion did not go over well with the leaders of his native religion. False charges of treason and espionage were brought against him and he was stripped of his post in the royal administration. He was imprisoned and subjected to harsh persecution. A Catholic for only seven years, he was shot in the Aralvaimozhy forest on January 14, 1752. He was 39 years old.
The sites related to his life and martyrdom are in the Diocese of Kottar in the Kanyakumari district of the state of Tamil Nadu. Devasahayam’s tomb at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Nagercoil attracts a large number of worshippers.
To celebrate the holiness of Devasahayam, the Latin bishops sent him a prayer and a brief overview of his life emphasizing his exceptional qualities.
In collaboration with the canonization committee of Kottar diocese in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where he was martyred, the CCBI plans to organize a national 7-step quiz competition on his life and his message. Likewise, a national essay contest will be organized for young and married lay people and school and college students.
Following the canonization on May 15, a national celebration of thanksgiving will take place on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 2022, in Aralvaimozhi where Devasahayam met his martyrdom.
And on June 24, feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, all families will be consecrated to the Sacred Heart. The Bishops have invited the faithful, both at home and abroad, to join in family prayer and “to implore the intercession of the martyr Devasahayam for our country.”
The Indian Church
The CCBI has been behind the cause of Devasahayam’s holiness. In 2009, the Latin Rite Bishops decided to ask the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints to expedite the Devasahayam process, and in 2013 it decided to include his memorial in India’s liturgical calendar.
The bishops of India’s 132 Latin Rite dioceses form the CCBI, the largest of the 3 groups that make up the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the supreme body of the Catholic Church in India. . The other two episcopal organizations belong to the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, which have 32 and 11 dioceses respectively.