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India's first lay' martyr 'Devasahayam Pillai


            India's first 'lay' martyr Devasahayam Pillai (1712-1752)


Beatification ceremony of at Nagercoil


A large number of people witnessed the beatification ceremony of martyr Devasahayam Pillai at a programme organised on the Carmel school campus on Sunday, 2 Dec.2012.


Pope Benedict XVI, Head of the Catholic Church, declared Devasahayam Pillai, Blessed. An idol of the martyr was sanctified on the occasion. Religious personalities, including Angelo Cardinal Amato, Salvatore Pennacchio Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai Telespore P. Cardinal Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, and more than 40 archbishops from various places across the country witnessed the ceremony. Over thousand parish priests, reverend fathers and Sisters also were witness to the ceremony. 

Lakhs of people attended a ceremony to mark the beatification of Martyr Devasahayam Pillai, the first layman from India to be given this honour by the Catholic Church.


The grand ceremony was held at the Carmel School grounds near Ramanputhoor in the town by the Diocese of Kottar where Pillai was born. The Chairman of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Angelo Cardinal Amato, participated in the function as the Papal Delegate and presided over it. Senior Catholic clergymen, including Salvatore Pennacchio, Apostolic Nuncio, and several cardinals from India, 40 bishops and almost 2,000 priests and nuns were joined by lakhs of faithful from different parts of the country to witness the ceremony.


Devasahayam Pillai, the 18th century "martyr" who "sacrificed" his life for the faith in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, Pillai is the first lay person to be elevated to the rank of the "Blessed" in India as a procedure ahead of raising a person to Sainthood under the Canon Law followed by the Church.  


The Church holds Pillai, who was born in a Hindu family as Neelakanta Pillai, as the first Catholic martyr from India. According to Church historians, Pillai was born in a feudal Nair family and was an official in the service of King Mathanda Varma, the most powerful ruler of Travancore which encompassed southern Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu.


After the Kulachal war, he came under the spell of Dutch captain Eustacheus Benedictus De Lenoy, who, being caught a war prisoner, later joined Marthanda Varma's forces.

De Lenoy was believed to be instrumental in converting Pillai to Christianity and he was rechristened as Lazar, but later came to be known as Devasahayam locally.


According to church chroniclers, Pillai's conversion was taken as an affront by the feudal lords of the day and they repeatedly persuaded him to give up his new faith. As Pillai stood firm, he was arrested and tortured for three years and finally taken to a remote place and shot dead by on January 14, 1752.


The process of beatification of Pillai gained momentum in 1993 with his "cause" being canonically instituted in the diocese of Kottar. The Diocesan Enquiry was sent to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints and the validity of the Diocesan process was confirmed in March 2010.


The Historical commission and the Theological commission in Rome later approved that the "Servant of God" suffered death for his faith and the present Pope authorised the Pontifical Commission for the Cause of Saints to promulgate the decree declaring Devasahayam Pillai (Lazarus) from the Diocese of Kottar "beatified".



                                      DURING THE YEAR OF FAITH