Indian martyr, six others to be canonized next year

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By Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

India’s Blessed Lazarus, popularly known as Devasahayam, and six others will be canonized next year.

Pope Francis will canonize Devasahayam during a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on May 15, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints said on Nov. 9.

The Holy Father had cleared the Indian martyr to be declared a saint in a consistory meeting with cardinals and promoters of sainthood causes in Rome on May 3.

“Indeed, it is a time to celebrate the occasion. In fact, last May when the Holy Father cleared his canonization, we were praying for his speedy sainthood and were sure that it will be declared soon, and here comes the good news,” said Bishop Soosai Nazarene of Kottar.

Bishop Nazarene said that the sainthood has come at a very significant time as Christians in India are witnessing persecution after being blamed for religious conversion activities.

“It is time for all of us to witness our faith without fear and promote peace and communal harmony among different faiths. It is also time that we promote our youth to come forward and witness Jesus Christ,” the prelate said.

Canonization of Blessed Devasahayam will inspire many faithful, especially the laity who feel ignored to come forward and witness the faith

Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, former secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s office of Dalits and backward classes, said “it is a proud moment for all of us as we are witnessing history being made. Very rarely do we see any layman who is made a saint.”

The priest said it was time to remember all the laypeople who laid down their lives for Christ, especially in Odisha’s Kandhamal where many tribal people and Dalits lost their lives during anti-Christian violence in 2008.

“Canonization of Blessed Pillai will inspire many faithful, especially the laity who feel ignored to come forward and witness the faith,” said Father Raj, who is based in Tamil Nadu’s Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore.

Pillai, an upper-caste Hindu convert to Christianity, was born on April 23, 1712. He was a member of the royal service and was close to King Marthanda Varma, then ruler of Travancore.

He converted to Christianity in 1745 under the influence of Lannoy, the commander-in-chief of the Travancore army, and was baptized by Jesuit Father R. Bouttari Italus.

His given name Neelakanda Pillai was changed to Lazar, but he became popularly known as Devasahayam (God’s help).

Pillai’s wife, Bhargavi Ammal, also became Catholic and she took the name Gnanapoo Ammal (Theresa).

The king ordered Pillai’s arrest in 1749, charging him with treason and espionage. Pillai was imprisoned, tortured and finally banished to the Aralvaimozhy forest, a remote border area of Travancore.

Among them is Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a French soldier who traveled extensively in northern Africa

According to church documents, en route to the forest, Pillai was beaten daily, pepper was rubbed in his wounds and nostrils, and he was exposed to the sun and given only stagnant water to drink.

Pillai, who was a Catholic for only seven years, was shot dead by soldiers in 1752.

According to officials of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, seven blessed will be canonized saints next May. Among them is Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a French soldier who traveled extensively in northern Africa and was killed on Dec. 1, 1916, by a band of marauders.

Three priests who founded religious orders — César de Bus, Luigi Maria Palazzolo and Giustino Maria Russolillo — and two religious foundresses — Maria Francesca di Gesù and Maria Domenica Mantovani — will also be canonized.

Credit: UCA News

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