Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) November 13 (NDTV/Indian Express): Devasahayam Pillai, a Hindu converted to Christianity in the 18th century, will become the first Indian layman – a non-ordained member of the Church – to be conferred sainthood.
Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Devasahayam Pillai, together with six other Blesseds, during a Canonization Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican on May 15, 2022, Church officials said in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday.
The announcement was made by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican on Tuesday.
With the completion of the process, Pillai, who took the name “Lazarus” after embracing Christianity in 1745, will become the first lay person from India to become a saint, the church said.
“Lazarus” or “Devasahayam” in the local language, meaning “God is my help”.
“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. After enduring increasing hardships, he received the crown of martyrdom when he was shot on 14 January 1752”, a note prepared by the Vatican said.
Sites linked with his life and death are in Kottar Diocese, in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu.
Devasahayam is said to have faced harsh persecution and imprisonment after he decided to convert to Christianity, ultimately resulting in his killing in 1752. While he was declared eligible for sainthood last year, the Vatican announced the date of the ceremony on Tuesday.
So, what do we know about Devasahayam Pillai?
Born on April 23, 1712 in the village of Nattalam in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari District, Devasahayam went on to serve in the court of Travancore’s Maharaja Marthanda Varma. It was here that he met a Dutch naval commander, who taught him about the Catholic faith.
In 1745, soon after he was baptised, he assumed the name ‘Lazarus’, meaning ‘God is my help’. But he then faced the wrath of the Travancore state, which was against his conversion.
“His conversion did not go well with the heads of his native religion. False charges of treason and espionage were brought against him and he was divested of his post in the royal administration,” a note issued by the Vatican in February 2020 read. He was imprisoned and subjected to harsh persecution.
“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,” the Vatican stated.
On January 14, 1752, just seven years after he became a Catholic, Devasahayam was shot dead in the Aralvaimozhy forest. Since then, he has widely been considered a martyr by the Catholic community in South India. His body is now at Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral in the Diocese of Kottar.
Why was he approved for sainthood?
In 2004, the diocese of Kottar in Kanyakumari, along with the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council (TNBC) and the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) recommended Devasahayam for beatification to the Vatican. In February, last year, the Vatican declared that he was eligible for sainthood.
He was declared blessed by the Kottar diocese in 2012, 300 years after his birth. “In remarks that day during the midday ‘Angelus’ prayer in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI recalled Devasahayam as ‘faithful layman’. He urged Christians to “join in the joy of the Church in India and pray that the new Blessed may sustain the faith of the Christians of that large and noble country,” the note from the Vatican stated.
What was the controversy surrounding his name?
Devasahayam’s ascent to sainthood was not without controversy. In 2017, two former IAS officers wrote to Cardinal Angelo Amato, who was then the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, urging them to drop Devasahayam’s last name ‘Pillai’ as it was a caste title. However at the time, the Vatican declined their request.
It was only in February 2020, when the Vatican cleared him for sainthood, that they dropped ‘Pillai’ from his name, referring to him as ‘Blessed Devasahayam’.
Sister Mariam Thresia declared a Saint
Thrivananthapuram, Oct 13, 2019: Mariam Thresia was born in the Chiramel Mankidiyan family in Puthenchira village of Thrissur district in 1876. She began a life of prayer at an early age, and longed for a life of seclusion.
On Sunday, Kerala-born Catholic nun Mariam Thresia was declared a saint by Pope Francis in Rome. She is the third nun and fourth clergy member from Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church, one of the prominent eastern churches under the Vatican, to be canonized into the league of saints.
Here is a look at Mariam Thresia, sainthood and its long-winded process, and those waiting to be elevated as saints in India.
Mariam Thresia was born in the Chiramel Mankidiyan family in Puthenchira village of Thrissur district in 1876. She began a life of prayer at an early age, and longed for a life of seclusion.
As she led the life of mystic, Thresia worked to provide solace to the sick, and offered charity to the poor in the village. She wanted to become a nun, and joined the Order of Franciscan Poor Clares.
Later, upon realizing that she wanted to lead a life dedicated to prayers, Thresia, in 1913, formed a community “House of Solitude” along with a few others. That was the beginning of the Congregation of Holy Family, which later grew into a prominent religious congregation of nuns.
She died in 1926 at the age of 50. In 1975, the Church began the process of her canonisation. She was declared venerable in 1999 and was beatified in 2000.
What sainthood means
It is titled that is conferred posthumously. Once a person is canonised as a saint, he or she is venerated in the Church. Then, churches and church-run institutions can be named after such persons, and Christian children can adopt the names of these saints at the time of baptism.
The relics of the person declared as saint are venerated, and festivals are held in their names. Their places of birth, death, and burial become centres of pilgrimage.
List of saints
The Catholic Church has a very long list of saints that has been under preparation from the beginning of the Church. Saints in the early centuries after Christ had been martyrs who died after persecution by the Roman Empire. Later, those who lived pious lives and stood for the Christian faith were also made saints. There are Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, ordinary men and women among the long list of saints.
Making of a saint
The making of a Catholic saint is a long process. The early saints did not go through any formal procedures, but in the 17th century, the Church introduced guidelines for declaring a person as saint. The guidelines were subsequently revised.
As the first step, the call for beginning the canonisation process of a person should come from within the local community, which has to establish that the candidate lived a saintly life. If the demand seems worthy, the candidate’s diocese constitutes a special body to examine his or her life.
If the committee finds that the case of the candidate is strong, the diocese presents the case at the Congregation for the Cause of Saints in Rome. If the Vatican is convinced, it confers the title of ‘Servant of God’ on the candidate.
The serious process of canonisation begins thereafter. A Church official, who oversees the canonisation process, is appointed as postulator. He has to probe that the candidate lived by Christian virtues.
Documents and testimonies are collected and presented to the Vatican Congregation. If the person declared as ‘Servant of God’ is found virtuous enough, he is elevated into the next stage, ‘Venerable.’
At this stage, the postulator has to prove that a living person received a miracle from God through the intervention of the ‘Servant of God’. If this is done, the candidate is declared ‘Blessed’ by the Vatican.
During the ‘Blessed’ period, the proof of another miracle caused by the intervention of the candidate must be established. If this is done, the ‘Blessed’ is declared a saint.
In the entire process, the Church has to be convinced that two miracles, mainly healings of illness without medical attention, had happened due to the intervention of the person to be made a saint. A team of doctors have to ascertain that the healing happened without medicine.
Saints in India
With the elevation of Mariam Thresia as saint, there are now 11 saints connected with the country, according to the official data of the Church.
Of the eleven, Gonsalo Garcia, born in India to Portuguese parents in Mumbai in 1557, is considered to have been the first India-born saint. In 2008, Kerala-born Sister Alphonsa was declared as the first woman Catholic saint from India. Mother Teresa had a fast-track to sainthood when she was canonised in 2016.
Waiting in a long queue
In the category of the Blessed, a step before that of sainthood, there are six individuals at the moment. They include Devasahayam Pillai, a Hindu layman who converted to Christianity, hailing from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. He died in 1752.
In the category of Venerable, there are 11 persons from across the country.
And there are 42 persons from the Catholic Church in the country in the list of Servants of God.