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Church beatifies India's first 'lay' martyr

Press Trust of India  |  Nagercoil (TN) 

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 followed by the Church.

Apart from representatives of Vatican, Indian cardinals, senior bishops, priests, religious and a large congregation of lay devotees attended the function at the Carmer Higher Secondary School ground under the Kottar Diocese here.

The Church considers Pillai as a person of unflinching faith and who sacrificed his life for the faith in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in the 18th century.

According to Catholic rules, beatification is a procedure ahead of elevating a deceased person to Sainthood, known as Canonisation in church parlance. Those who have already been beatified in India include Mother Teresa.

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 (1712-1752) 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 "beatifie".

First Published: Sun, December 02 2012. 20:45 IST