Chennai: Devasahayam, who converted to Christianity in the 18th century in the then kingdom of Travancore, was declared a saint by Pope Francis at the Vatican today.
Devasahayam, also known as Lazarus, is the first Indian layman to get sainthood for what the Vatican calls "enduring increasing hardships".
Born Neelakandan Pillai in a Hindu upper caste family in present-day Kanyakumari, he worked at Travancore palace. In 1745, he converted to Christianity and took the names of Devasahayam and Lazarus. He went on to fight against caste discrimination and was persecuted and then killed.
In 2012, the Vatican recognized his martyrdom after a rigorous process.
Devasahayam was chosen for the sainthood after a woman in her seventh month of pregnancy testified to a "miracle" after praying to him in 2013.
The woman said that her foetus had been declared "medically dead" and that there was no movement. However, she said, she experienced movement "after praying to the martyr."
The Vatican accepted this and recognised Devasahayam for sainthood.
"This sainthood is an invitation for us to live and lead a life free of discrimination," said Father John Kulandai, who attended the canonisation at the Vatican as a key member of the team in Kanyakumari that worked on this matter.
The original invitation from the Vatican had mentioned Devasahayam's former caste, "Pillai." However, following protests that adding the caste name defeats the purpose of what Devasahayam stood for, the Vatican removed it.
"Saint Devasahayam stood for equality and fought against casteism and communalism. "His sainthood comes at a time when India is facing a surge in communalism," said retired IAS officer Devasahayam, who had written to the Vatican, seeking the removal of Devasahayam's caste name.
"This canonisation is a great opportunity for the Church to stand against the prevailing communal poison." The church should have made this a people's movement, but they failed and made it a clergy-centric event, "he added.