Blessed Lazarus is the first Indian lay person on the path to sainthood
A married man who converted to Christianity, he died as a martyr because he refused to give up his faith. In his native region, he is known as Devasagayam (God’s help). The Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognised a miracle attributed to him in 2013. Thousands of people visit the places of his birth and martyrdom.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The future "canonisation of Blessed (Lazarus) Devasagayam will be a great affirmation for the Catholics of Tamil Nadu since he would be the first Indian from the state to be raised to the dignity of sainthood,” said Fr AXJ Bosco, a Jesuit and Dalit activist, speaking to AsiaNews.
The clergyman is overjoyed that Pope Francis signed on 21 February the decree that starts the process of canonisation of Blessed Lazarus. Known in his native land as Devasagayam (God’s help in the local language), he “will be the first married lay martyr from India to become a saint.”
The pontiff authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to issue eight decrees, including one concerning the miracle attributed to the Indian Blessed who lived in the 18th century.
The case involves a 24-week foetus whose heart was restarted after the mother prayed intensely and drank water from the well in the martyr's native village. Eventually the baby was born healthy through natural childbirth.
According to Fr Bosco, the Pope's decision has great significance. “The message is that it is possible for anyone, irrespective of status in the Church, to follow the radical spirituality of Jesus, lead a holy life, and be a saint.” So far only priests and nuns have become saints in India.
The Blessed Lazarus Devasahayam was born on 23 April 1712 in Nattalam, a village in Tamil Nadu, into a high-caste Hindu family. He eventually embarked on a career as a court official for the king of Travancore.
In 1741 he discovered the Catholic faith through a French-born Dutch officer captured by Travancore and later converted. On 14 May 1745 he was baptised and took the name of Lazarus.
Following his conversion, he began to proclaim the Gospel and many people converted thanks to his work, including his wife. After repeated attempts to force him to give up his faith, he was arrested and tortured in public, as a warning to those who might think of converting to Catholicism.
Finally, he was shot on 14 January 1752 in Aralvaimozhy, where he had been taken in secret. On 2 December 2012 he was proclaimed blessed.
“Ever since Pope Francis authorised the canonisation process, thousands of people have been rushing to the place where he was shot,” said Bishop emeritus Peter Remigius of Kottar, the diocese in which Devasahayam's places of birth and martyrdom are located.
“In all the parishes of the diocese there is great jubilation; the news has gone viral on social media. The woman involved in the miracle is from the diocese and lives very close to the blessed’s birthplace.”
According to the bishop, “it is a great gift for the Diocese of Kottar, the Church of Kerala and India. It will have a deep impact on the equal dignity of every person. His canonisation will raise awareness that all human beings have value, because we are all children of God and co-heirs of Christ.
“Even his caste name, Pillai, is not used. After his conversion, he embraced the Gospel message and began treating everyone as equal. He moved around and mixed with people of the lower castes, thus incurring in the wrath of his own. We have been waiting for three centuries for this honour.”