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Who is Devasahayam Pillai Saint declared by the Vatican?

Who is Devasahayam Pillai Saint declared by the Vatican?

The head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis, declared Devasahayam Pillai a saint on Sunday. Devasahayam Pillai was born a Hindu in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu and embraced Christianity in the 18th century, making him the first person from India to be awarded the title of “saint” by the Vatican.

On Sunday, the pope declared Devasahayam a saint during the Canonization Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, which was attended by more than 50,000 people from around the world, including government delegations.

In addition to Devasahayam, the Pope proclaimed five other men: Titus Brandsma, Cesar de Bus, Luigi Maria Palazzolo, Giustino Maria Russolillo, and Charles de Foucauld, and four women: Maria Rivier, Maria Francesca of Jesus Rubatto, Maria of Jesus Santocanale, and Maria Domenica Mantovani — like saints.

“This sainthood is an invitation for us to live and lead a life free from discrimination,” said Father John Kulandai, who attended the canonization at the Vatican as a key member of the Kanyakumari team that worked on the issue.

The original invitation from the Vatican mentioned the ancient Devasahayam caste, “Pillai”. The Vatican removed it after protests that adding the caste name defeated the purpose of what Devasahayam stood for.

Who is Devasahayam Pillai?

Devasahayam, formerly known as Neelakanta Pillai, was born on April 23, 1712. He came from an upper-caste Hindu family in the village of Nattalam in the Kanyakumari district, then part of the ancient kingdom of Travancore. Pillai worked at the court of Marthanda Varma of Travancore as an officer, where he met a Dutch naval commander. He was instructed in the Catholic faith by the Dutch naval commander and baptized in 1745. Pillai later assumed the name “Lazarus” or Devasahayam in Malayalam, which means “God is my help,” according to the PTI report.

According to a Vatican memo from 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 resign from his job in the royal administration, the Indian Express reported citing the Vatican note.

Devasahayam preached for the equality of all people, despite caste differences, which aroused “the hatred of the upper classes”. He was arrested in 1749. After enduring increasing hardship, he was shot dead in the Aralvaimozhy Forest on January 14, 1752, the Indian Express reported.

Considered a martyr, Devasahayam’s mortal remains were interred within the current Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral in Kottar, Nagercoil.

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