Nilakandan Pillai was born into a Hindu family in South India in 1712. His parents were devout upper caste Hindus. Nilakandan’s family was closely associated with the Royal Palace, and he served the King of Travancore as a palace official in charge of accounts.
In the Battle of Colachel, fought in 1741 between Travancore and the Dutch East India Company, the Dutch naval commander Captain Eustachius De Lannoy was defeated and captured by the King. De Lannoy and his men were later pardoned and served the Travancore army. Official work brought Nilakandan and De Lannoy together and a close friendship formed between the two.
During this period, Nilakandan faced many misfortunes, and was beset with doubts and fear. De Lannoy consoled his friend by sharing his Christian faith. The story of Job from the Bible greatly comforted Nilakandan, and their conversations drew him to Christ. Nilakandan decided to receive baptism, though he knew this decision would mean sacrificing his social status and the service of the King. On 14th May 1745, at the age of 32, Nilakandan was baptized into the Catholic Church, taking the name Devasahayam, the Tamil rendering of the biblical name Lazarus.
Devasahayam experienced immense joy in living his faith and strived to be a true disciple of Jesus. He thanked God every day for the grace of conversion and eagerly shared his Catholic faith with others. He soon persuaded his wife and several of his military colleagues to confess their faith in Christ. Devasahayam had no regard for the caste system and treated the so-called “low caste” people as equals.
Soon the palace officials who opposed his newfound faith turned against him. They conspired to have him arrested. The King asked Devasahayam to renounce his Christian faith, and promised him a prominent position in his court. But despite the allurements and threats, Devasahayam stood firm in his faith, which further enraged the King. Regarded as a criminal, Devasahayam endured inhuman tortures for the next three years. He was whipped daily, and endured having chili powder rubbed onto his wounds and into his nostrils. Given only stagnant water to drink, he was paraded around the Kingdom on a buffalo with his hands tied behind him — an infamous punishment reserved for traitors and meant to discourage future conversions. Devasahayam endured the humiliation and torture with great patience and trust in God. His gentle and kind demeanor surprised the soldiers. Every morning and night he spent time in prayer, and continued preaching the Gospel to all who came to listen.
The ministers who had conspired against Devasahayam obtained permission from the King to execute him in secret. On 14 January 1752, he was then taken to a deserted mountain to stand before a firing squad. Devasahayam’s only request was for time to pray, which the soldiers granted. As he prayed, shots rang out and he died with the names of Jesus and Mary on his lips.
Devasahayam was declared a Martyr and Blessed on December 2, 2012. In February 2020, Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Devasahayam, and on May 15th, 2022, he was canonized, becoming India’s first layperson to be declared a saint.
Shalom World has made a program based on the life of this great saint, whose courageous witness and martyrdom continues to inspire the faithful of today.
To learn more about St. Devasahayam, watch the episode of ‘Glorious Lives’: https://www.shalomworld.org/episode/indias-first-layman-martyr-saint-st-lazarus-devasahayam
I was driving home when I noticed two street signs that seemed incongruous. The train station and shop signs were pointing in the wrong directions; the exact opposite ones, to be precise. If I were a tourist, a traveler who is not familiar with the suburb, I would have followed the sign and got lost. I guess somebody had moved the street signs as a prank or even as an intentional deception. In our walk with the Lord too, we need to know who is navigating us—God, ourselves, others, or the evil one. If we are not aware of our surroundings, we can easily get lost or misled. This Lent, whose voice will we listen to? Judas…the crowd…Pilate…or Jesus…?
To be good at anything, we have to put time, effort, and practice into it. The same applies to our preparation for eternity. How well are we going to do at the end of year exams if we have put little or no time towards studying during the year? Similarly, how well will we stand up on judgment day when we are held accountable for our lives? In our preparation period on earth for eternity, how much of our life was spent in prayer, good works, and sacrifice? Our Lord paid the ultimate price for our salvation, but we have to play our part. As He has graciously allowed us to be part of that sacrifice, let us not waste this valuable opportunity. He, through Calvary, has given us a chance to be part of His redemption, to be part of His sanctity, consequently allowing mere humans to be called into sainthood. What a privilege! As my mother would always remind us, children, this life of ours on earth, short or long, is but a preparation period, the springboard to eternity. How we fare in the structure of eternal life will be determined not only by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but by every thought, word, and deed we perpetrated during the time we spent on earth.
If your sacrifices are dragging you down and causing you to dread Lent—take heart. Our Lady at Fatima gave the children a prayer which offers compelling reasons to sacrifice. Her words may help dispel your Lenten dreads. The prayer begins: “O Jesus, it (this sacrifice I am making) is for love of You.” Why not borrow those words and make them your own? Telling Jesus you are doing this hard Lenten thing for love of Him may remind you why you are denying yourself in the first place: you are making room in your heart, so that you may love Him more. Further, the prayer helped the children offer their sacrifices for “the conversion of sinners.” You can do the same. When you make a Lenten sacrifice, offer it for a specific loved one who is living far from God. “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of......” Praying in Our Lady’s words will not lessen the difficulty of your sacrifices; but, because it sweetens them with love for Jesus and for lost souls, her words may truly help to dispel your Lenten dreads.
I am not one of those holy souls who look forward to Lent. However, I do have a few friends and family members who do. So, I try to take note of why that is the case. Just last week, my mom mentioned she was looking forward to Lent so she could invite her band, who are all senior citizens, to her parish fish fry. She said she’s really looking forward to it, since most of them aren’t Catholic but have mentioned that they like attending fish fries. After enjoying their traditional fish and chips, my mom is planning on reserving a room in the parish hall so the band can make music together after dinner. They call themselves the Silver Foxes and often visit nursing homes together to spread a little joy. My mom is a joyful evangelist, even at age 80! And she has unlocked the secret that Lent is for more than making penitential acts, but it is a time for growing the Kingdom of God by growing the Body of Christ.
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