In an interview with the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano for its July 4 edition, Cardinal Amato called the story of Devasayam Pillai “truly extraordinary.”
“He was a Hindu who belonged to the high caste of the warriors. When he converted to Christianity he was criticized and suffered persecution at the hands of his Hindu co-nationals, but that was not the extent of his sufferings,” Cardinal Amato recounted.
“He was imprisoned and subjected to all kinds of torture, but he persevered heroically to the end so as not to renounce his baptismal faith.”
Born in 1712, Pillai was raised in the one of the high casts of India and studied martial arts and archery. He converted to the Catholic faith and was baptized in 1745 in the Diocese of Kottar, taking the name of Devasayan, which in his native language means Lazarus. His wife also converted and took the name Gnanapoo Ammaal, which means Theresa.
Pillai’s conversion began with his friendship with Dutch Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, who led an expedition to India in 1741 to gain control of the Colachel Port in Travancore. De Lannoy was imprisoned and later pardoned on the condition that he serve in the local military.
Local officials were infuriated by Pillai’s conversion because he interacted with people from other casts. He was falsely accused of revealing state secrets to rival groups and European nationals.
He was arrested on February 23, 1749, and was subjected to torture. For three years he was taken from city to city to show people what would happen to those who converted from Hinduism to Christianity.
He was sustained during this time by his prayer and his witness to those willing to listen to him. He also received Communion secretly from priests who visited him at his cell.
Devasayan Pallai was shot on January 14, 1752 in the town of Aralvaimozhi. His body was left on a pile of rocks for wild animals to devour. However, his remains were preserved by locals and buried under the altar at the Church of St. Francis in Kottar.
In his remarks to the Vatican daily, Cardinal Amato called Pallai “an amazing and huge testimony for India today, because the Church in India in our times is also being persecuted, but she maintains her faith in Christ.”
The head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, called an 18th century Indian martyr a shining example for Christians today who are suffering persecution.