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India’s first married layperson saint: Devesahayam

Devasahayam

The Church in India thanks God for the gift of its first saint from among the laypersons in the form of martyr Devasahayam. 

Pope Francis will canonize Devasahayam on May 15 along with the other nine new saints of the church at St. Peter's Square, Vatican.   

Devasahayam is the first Indian, declared a martyr for shedding his flood for Jesus on Indian soil and the first married layperson in India to be included in the list of saints, and the first saint from the state of Tamil Nadu, south India.

Many church leaders in India and laypeople have hailed the most anticipated Canonization of Devasahayam.

“Devasahayam has left a marvelous legacy of faith, courage, and love of God. He patiently endured torment and torture and willingly sacrificed himself for the love of Christ and received salvation,” Archbishop Antony Pappusamy of Madurai Archdiocese in Tamil Nadu told RVA News.  

“We pray that God will enable us to imitate Devasahayam in letting go of all worldly pleasures and putting to practice faithfully the values of the Gospel as we live as children of the kingdom,” the church leader said.   

For Archbishop George Antonysamy of Madras and Mylapore, the canonization of Devasahayam will be a moment of deep joy and blessing for people all. 

“In the present global climate of intolerance, hatred, and division, the solemn event serves us to celebrate the heroes of our soil who fought very silently and convincingly to defend the faith in God,” he added.

The prelate wished, “I pray that everyone follows in Devashayam’s footsteps and bears witness to the Gospel. The sanctity of our lay martyr inspires all Christian families to grow in holiness and self-sacrifice.”

According to Antonysamy, Devasahayam led a life worthy of a saint during his captivity, spending considerable amounts of time in prayer every morning and night following a life of mortification. 

Lay people from India also praised God for the gift of the new saint from India.

"Devasahayam proves that one can live holiness even in everyday life in a family," said Pious Roy, a parishioner of Kurusady (Holy Cross) Church at Aralvaimozhy, Diocese of Kottar in Kanniyakumari District, Tamil Nadu.

Near the parish, Devasahayam was tortured and martyred. Today, over 650 families and 2600 residents are living and following the footprints of Devasahyam in Aralvaimozhy. 

According to Roy, Devasahayam evangelized his family and friends, and colleagues. “He is a model for all to imitate and live one’s Christian faith faithfully.” 

Devasahayam made his confession and received Holy Eucharist whenever a priest visited him and he exuded deep joy, love, and respect for everyone.

Archbishop Francis Kalist of Pondicherry-Cuddalore said that Devasahayam lived out the values of the Kingdom of God of Jesus while witnessing the social dimension of the Christian faith. 

“His [Devasahayam] faith in Jesus had completely changed his outlook on human beings and he began to see every individual as a child of God and a brother or sister to him,” the prelate said. 

In many prisons and public places for three years, caste prejudiced-minded people tortured and killed Devasahayam to create a deterrent effect on people desiring to convert from Hinduism to Christianity in those days, said Kalist.

The prelate wishes for the people of India that their faith in Jesus also transforms them, freeing them from all the anti-human values and structures of society that are opposed to the values of the Kingdom of God.

Father V. Hilarius, vicar general of the Kottar diocese said that it was a long wait for Blessed Martyr Devasahayam to be crowned a saint.  

Devasahayam, having stood up for his convictions and laid down his life, is a seed that will grow in the minds of future generations, said Father Hilarius.  

The martyr was born into a Hindu Nair family on April 23, 1712, at Nattalam in the present district of Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu. He was named Neelakandan. He became an official in King Mathanda Varma's court. The king became the most powerful ruler in the erstwhile Travancore kingdom.

A Dutch captain named Eustacheus Benedictus De Lenoy met Devasahayam as a war prisoner and later joined Marthanda Varma's forces after the Kulachal war, in which the Dutch were defeated in 1741. 

Jesuit Father Giovanni Baptista Buttari baptized Devasahayam at Vadakankulam in 1745 after being converted to Christianity by De Lenoy. In the local language, he was known as Lazarus, which means 'God is my help.' 

According to church chroniclers, Devasahayam's conversion to Christianity was taken as an affront by the feudal lords of the day and they repeatedly persuaded him to give up his Christian faith.

False charges of treason and espionage were brought against him. He was relieved of his post in the royal administration. He was imprisoned and subjected to harsh persecution.

On January 14, 1752, Devasahayam was taken to a remote place and shot dead after he stood firm for three years.

The 300th anniversary of Devasahayam's birth was celebrated on December 2, 2012, in Kottar. On the same day, he was beatified at Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral, Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu by Cardinal Angelo Amato on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI. 

Devasahayam is the seventh saint from India.

The six other Indian-born saints are St Gonsalo Garcia from Bassein, Bombay (June 8, 1862), St Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception (Anna Muttathupadathu) from Kottayam (October 12, 2008), St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara from Kainakari, Alappuzha (November 23, 2014), St. Euphrasia Eluvathingal (Rosa Eluvathingal or Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) from Kattor, Irinjalalkudu, Kerala (November 23, 2014), St. Joseph Vaz from Benaulim, Goa (January 14, 2015), and St. Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan from Thrissur, Kerala (October 13, 2019).

“When there are so many threats to the ministry of evangelization, martyr Devasahayam, the new saint shows us the path to fortitude and courage, marked by a dialogue of love and coordinated action for the good of all,” says Father John Kulandai, the vice postulator for the canonization. - With reporting by Anbu Selvam

 

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