Mumbai (AsiaNews) - A "gift" for the Year of Faith, a "blessing" and an "intense experience of faith" for the people of India: this is how said Msgr. Peter Remigius, Bishop of the Diocese of Kottar (Tamil Nadu), welcomes the beatification of Devasahayam Pillai, an eighteenth-century lay convert. Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints under whom the appeal for beatification of Pillai was scrutinised will preside the ceremony on December 2. For the occasion, the Diocese of Kottar - where Devasahayam was born in 1712 - will organize special events and prayer services.
Devasahayam Pillai will be the first Indian layman to be beatified. According to Msgr. Remigius, the man's martyrdom "represents a unique combination of devotion, courage and suffering", which will give impetus to "interfaith and multicultural dialogue" in the "pluralistic Indian society."
Interreligious dialogue, said the bishop, "calls for greater respect for religious traditions different from our own, and the freedom to practice one's own beliefs, and to follow one's conscience without suffering ostracism or persecution. Even after converting". "We are all children of the same Father", adds Msgr. Remigius, "and no one should suffer as Devasahayam did, being martyred for trying to live his faith."
A native of the district of Kanyakumari, Devasahayam Pillai was born into a Hindu family of the nair caste (warriors), and soon entered into the good graces of the royal family of Travancore (the current southern areas of Tamil Nadu and Kerala). In those years, the Indian met Eustachius De Lannoy, captain of the Dutch navy. Imprisoned by the king, but soon released and appointed commander of the armed forces of Travancore, De Lannoy was the reason Devasahayam became interested in the Christian faith. In 1745 the Indian was baptized, becoming Catholic. His conversion would bring other family members to renounce Hinduism: for this, according to the historical reconstruction, a Hindu priest accused him of treason, having him shut out of the palace and making him a victim of torture and punishment. In 1752, Devasahayam Pillai was killed, perhaps from gunshots fired by the king's soldiers. Today his relics are found near the altar of the Cathedral of St. Xavier, in Kottar.