11/10/2021, 16.22
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Devasahayam, the martyr who preached the equality of Dalits, will be saint next 15 May

by Nirmala Carvalho

The Vatican has set the date for the canonisation of the high caste court official, born in today’s Tamil Nadu. He will be the first Indian lay person to become a saint. For Archbishop Machado, he became “poor for the sake of the poor”. Fr Bosco notes that, “Castes divide”, while the new saint will unite.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis will canonise seven new saints in Rome next 15 May. One of them will be Lazarus Devasahayam, the first Indian lay person to be so recognised by the Catholic Church.

The Vatican announced the date yesterday after the green light for the canonization was given on 3 May during the ordinary public consistory. Charles de Foucauld will also be canonised in the same ceremony.

Born Devasahayam Pillai on 23 April 1712 in Nattalam, a village in Tamil Nadu, the future saint hailed from a high caste Hindu family. After embarking on a military career, he became an official in the royal palace of the Kingdom of Travancore.

In 1741 he became acquainted with Christianity through a French Catholic prisoner, and was baptised on 14 May 1745 taking the Christian name of Lazarus. By proclaiming the Gospel, he converted many people.

Despite coming from a privileged group, he insisted on equality among all people, regardless of caste. This aroused fierce opposition. After repeated attempts to make him abandon the Christian faith, he was arrested and publicly tortured. He was finally executed in Aralvaimozhy, where he had been taken in secret, on 14 January 1752.

He was proclaimed blessed on 2 December 2012 in a ceremony held in the Diocese of Kottar attended by more than 100,000 Catholics from all over India.

The canonisation of Devasahayam represents “a historic moment,” said Archbishop Felix Machado, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), speaking to AsiaNews.

The Blessed became “poor for the sake of the poor and had love for the poor, as Pope Francis says”. The canonisation “is an encouragement to us to emulate Devasahayam”.

What is more, "To many of us who have received the Faith from our forebears, Devasahayam's testimony reminds us that the Gospel is a treasure to be discovered and to which devote a lifetime.”

For Fr A X J Bosco, a Jesuit born in Tamil Nadu personally committed to Dalit rights, one aspect stands out.

“I feel very happy that the name Pillai was dropped and he is called Blessed Devasahayam. Caste discrimination is against the Indian constitution and the teachings of Jesus,” the clergyman said.

“Castes divide, allowing some powerful people to exploit and leaves the poor powerless.” Instead, let us “Praise the Lord that we have a saint common to everyone”.

“Devasahayam treated everyone equally and worked hard for the welfare and development of Dalits.” For this reason, “he was persecuted and killed. His testimony must be an example for all of us.”

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