05/14/2022, 13.12
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Card. Gracias: 'Devasahayam, the first Indian lay saint: a great gift for Asia'

by Nirmala Carvalho

The Indian Church's joy for the former 18th century dignitary that Pope Francis will canonise on 15 May. Killed because he preached the fraternity of the Gospel beyond caste barriers. Syro-Malankara native Baselios Cleemis: "Witness in society of a message that no one can stop".


Mumbai (AsiaNews) -  15 May will be a special day for the Catholic Church in India: among the 10 new saints that Pope Francis will proclaim in St Peter's Square in Rome is the martyr Lazarus Devasahayam, (1712-1752) who will become the first Indian lay, married man to be canonised by the Church. 

Originally from Tamil Nadu, from an upper caste Hindu family, he embarked on a military career, becoming a minister in the then Kingdom of Travancore, as an official in the royal palace. Upon encountering the gospel, he chose the name Lazarus and preached equality among all people in the name of Jesus. This created hostility at court against him until he was arrested and martyred.

The importance of this figure and his message still very relevant today in India is underlined to AsiaNews by Card. Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Indian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CBCI). "The canonisation of Blessed Lazarus, called Devasahayam," he comments, "is an affirmation of his being a disciple of Jesus, living the Gospel fully in his life. He was a layman, and this reveals that holiness is for every person, not only for religious. Today we speak more and more often of the vocation of the laity in the Church, and here is an Indian layman, a family man, who offered a true and genuine witness to the values of the Gospel. He loved the poor and the Dalits and was a powerful witness to the Spirit of Christ".

Cardinal Gracias continued, "Devasahayam, was a married man who gave his testimony of life in the midst of society and shows that we can live our holiness in every vocation. His canonisation is a great honour for us: the first Indian lay martyr represents a turning point, a sign of maturity for our Church and this is a wonderful gift from God. And it is also so for the whole Church in Asia: a sign of our self-awareness. Before we were collaborators of the universal Church, we received theology, spirituality, mission from others. Now we are collaborators with the universal Church, sending missionaries ourselves all over the world, but also in our theology and our faith experience in dialogue. The Church in Asia is growing, not numerically, but in depth, in our understanding of Christianity, of discipleship. We have a role to play in the universal Church, and this canonisation confirms it'.

Syro-Malankaran Cardinal Baselios Cleemis also emphasises the importance of this canonisation for the Christians of India. 'We are very joyful and moved by this event,' he comments, 'Devasahatyam lived in the south of India, in a district very close to ours. His was a life of listening to the word of God, submitting himself totally to the service of the truth of the Gospel in society. The Indian Church is grateful for this heroic figure in spreading the Gospel in our land even in tribulations. He is a gift to India and to the universal Church: I am sure he will guide the lives of many Christians'.

Jesuit Fr. A. X. J. Bosco Bosco, a Dalit rights activist, shared with AsiaNews: "Devasahayam treated everyone equally; he worked for the welfare and development of Dalits and was persecuted for it. Being totally faithful to Christ, he continued to work for the least despite strong resistance. His example should also motivate us to continue working in today's India for the building of an inclusive community'.

Msgr Peter Remigius, bishop emeritus of the diocese of Kottar where the new saint was born, recounts that the woman who received the miracle through his intercession lives very close to Devasahayam's birthplace. "This figure will have an enormous impact on the equal dignity of every human person, it will create awareness that we are all children of God and co-heirs with Christ.  Even his caste name Pillai is no longer used, but is simply Devasahayam because he moved freely and mingled with people of the lower castes. We had been waiting three centuries for his holiness to be recognised" he said.

After the canonisation on 15 May, on Sunday 5 June - the Solemnity of Pentecost - India will hold a national celebration of thanksgiving at Aralvaimozhi, the place of Devasahayam's martyrdom. Then, on 24 June, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, all Indian families will be consecrated to the Sacred Heart. The bishops invited the faithful, both in the country and in the diaspora, to join in prayer as a family and "ask for the intercession of the martyr Devasahayam for our country".

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