Devasahayam Pillai, the 18th century Roman Catholic convert and “martyr” from Kanniyakumari district, will be canonised on May 5, 2022, by Pope Francis at the Vatican.
The message has been conveyed to Father Nazarene Soosai, the Bishop of Kottar Diocese, by Elphinston Joseph, a postulator, who presented a plea for the beatification or canonisation in the Roman Catholic Church.
“He is being canonised 270 years after his martyrdom. It is an important event for the people of Tamil Nadu,” said former IAS officer M.G. Devasahayam, who wrote a letter to the Vatican in 2017 to drop the caste title “Pillai” from the “Blessed Devasahayam’s name”.
Even though the Vatican refused to change the caste title in the beginning, it subsequently dropped it on a representation from the district.
“It is not fair to retain his caste name since he revolted against it. Though the Vatican declined to change it, after our subsequent letters arguing that India’s Constitution and laws are against the caste system, they agreed,” Mr. Devasahayam said.
According to CatholicSaints.Info, the canonisation miracle involves the resumption of the heartbeat of a 24-week foetus that had stopped earlier. It happened in 2013.
“The mother, who was a Catholic and had a devotion to Lazurus, the baptismal name of Devasahayam, began praying for his intercession for the baby; within hours she felt the baby kicking, and tests showed that the heartbeat had resumed, and the infant was later born with no complications,” says the website. In May, 2021, a consistory of cardinals called by Pope Francis approved his canonisation.
Born Neelakanta Pillai, a high-caste Hindu, he knew Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam. He learnt about Catholicism from a French prisoner of war and converted to the faith. He was baptised on 14, May, 1745 and assumed the name Devasahayam Pillai.
Folklorist A.K. Perumal, the biographer of Devasahayam, said he was born to a Namboothiri father and Nair mother in 1712. He was shot dead at Aralvaimozhi, on the border of the Kanniyakumari district, in 1752.
Mr. Perumal said folklore had many versions on why he had converted to Christianity.