Devasahayam Pillai

Devasahayam Pillai is the first Indian layman to be declared as saint. He is to be declared as saint by the Vatican in May 2022. He faced harsh persecution and imprisonment during the 18th centrury when he decided to convert to Christianity. He was killed in 1752. Devasahayam Pillai was declared eligible for sainthood in 2020.

Who was Devasahayam Pillai?

Devasahayam Pillai was born on April 23, 1712 in Nattalam, Kanyakumari. He worked at the court of Travancore Maharaja Marthanda Varma. He met a Dutch commander during his service. The commander taught him about catholic faith. He was then baptized in 1745. He then took the name Lazarus. Lazarus means “God is my help”. After his conversion, he was removed from his post in the royal administration. He was imprisoned and punished with harsh persecution. Devasahayam Pillai preached about equality. This aroused hatred among the higher classes.

Why was his sainthood approved?

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of India and the Tamil Nadu Bishop Council recommended Devasahayam for beatification. Beatification is the declaration by the Pope that a dead person is in the state of bliss. Three hundred years after his birth, he was declared eligible for sainthood in 2020.

What were the controversies?

In 2017, IAS officers from India wrote to the Cardinal Angelo Amato (Cardinal was then the head of Vatican Congregation for Causes of Saints). They urged him to drop Devasahayam’s last name, “Pillai”. Pillai is a caste in Tamil Nadu. However, the Vatican declined their request. Later, when they cleared him for sainthood they dropped “Pillai”.


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