Thiruvananthapuram: An 18th century 'martyr', who sacrificed his life for the faith in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, will be beatified by a Catholic church on December 2 at Nagarcoil in Tamil Nadu. Devasagayam Pillai will be declared as 'blessed' at a solemn ceremony to be held at the Carmel School, to be attended by representatives of Pope Benedict XVI and Indian Cardinals and senior prelates, according to sources at Kottar Diocese.
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 beatified include Mother Teressa. The church holds Devasahaym 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.
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