India to have its first lay saint on May 15th

Alice Topno

The Catholic Church of India is going to have a new saint, Devasahayam Pillai. He is among the seven candidates from around the world who will be officially declared saints by Pope Francis at a canonization Mass in the Vatican on May 15, 2022. He was an upper-caste Hindu.

In the history of Indian Catholic Church, Devasahayam Pillai is the first layperson who is going to be saint. He was born on April 23, 1712, as Neelakanda Pillai into a Hindu family in the Kingdom of Travancore, in the present district of Kanyakumari, in Tamil Nadu, southern India. He was baptized in May 1745 after several months of catechism.

On the day of baptism, he dedicated himself solemnly and said, “I came by my own free will. I know my heart, He is my God, I have decided to follow Him and will do so my whole life”.

He was threatened, beaten, mistreated, imprisoned and tortured uninterruptedly for three years. Despite of his sufferings, Devasahayam remained firm in his faith. A catholic for only seven years, he was shot dead in the Aralvaimozhy forest on January 14, 1752. He was 39.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) proposed him as the model for youth. “We have here a wonderful opportunity to tell the heroic story of our martyr especially to our young people, who will be helped by it to face courageously the exigencies of Christian life and witness today.”

Archbishop Felix Machado said that  “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.”