Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updates, Snippets And A New Blessed For India

I have updated the pro-life page on the blog.  If any of the pro-life organisations want me to post additional information about their campaigns and events, please let me know and I will do what I can to include them.

A few interesting snippets for you.  Matthew Archbald has a very good article on the issue of the separation of Church and State - it is a one way street, he tells us. How true, those who call for separation of Church and State tend to mean control of the Church by the State.  William Oddie over at the Herald has a good piece on the liberals's obsession with quoting Blessed John Henry Newman to support their dissent.   There is no way Blessed John Henry would support our present tribe of dissidents in their attempts to force the Church replace the timeless teaching of Christ for their ephemeral views. 

Mgr Charles Pope has a good article on St Nicholas, whose feast it is today.  According to Mgr Pope, St Nicholas are neither fat nor jolly: he quotes that story of the Saint at the Council of Nicea which has endeared the Saint to me.  Now I do not propose violence as the solution to any problem, but I think the incident brings Nicholas to life and reveals his passion for Christ and the truth.

With recent events I did not get a chance to blog on the new Blessed, beatified last Sunday in India.  Blessed Devasahayam Pillai, layman and martyr: indeed he is the first Indian layman to be beatified. 

Blessed Devasahayam was born on the 23rd April 1712 into a wealthy southern Indian family, in Nattalam.  He was named Neelakanda.  His father was a Hundu priest.  According to the traditions of his culture he was raised by a maternal uncle who was a pious Hindu, and so the young boy was brought up in the way of Hinduism.  His family was influential and well received at court of the king of Travancore, and so when he was old enough, he entered into the royal service under the king, Maharaja Marthanda Varma.  As a capable and gifted young man he soon attracted the attention of court officials and the king himself and Neelakanda was soon moving up the ladder in the palace and soon occupied an important position in the area of state affairs.  It was at this time that he met a young woman, Bargavi Ammal and they married.

The Maharaja was an influential monarch and sought to consolidate his power in various ways, one of the most successful being through his maritime pursuits.  He had been a soldier and he was renowned for his ability as a tactician, so he brought this gift to his relationship with external powers.  Following a war with the Dutch East India Company – which he won, he captured a number of naval commanders, among them Captain Eustachius De Lannoy whom he pardoned on condition he serve in the Maharaja’s army.  This led to Neelakanda’s meeting with the Dutchman and the development of friendship between them.  It was in the context of this friendship that the young Hindu was first acquainted with Catholicism and he found it most attractive.  The Dutch captain instructed the young official in the faith, and Neelakanda decided to seek baptism.  

Neelakanda was baptised in 1745 by a Jesuit priest, Fr Boutarri, at their mission in Vadakkankulam.  He took as his baptismal name Lazarus, after the disciple of the Lord, and this translated as Devasahayam in his native tongue.  His wife also converted, taking the name Teresa, or in their native language Gnanapoo; other members of his family would eventually follow him into the Church.

While there was no official persecution of the Catholic Church in the kingdom of Travancore, it was not permissible for a state official to become a Christian.  Devasahayam soon found himself facing difficulties.  The Brahmin chief priest of the kingdom and other officials eventually brought false charges against him, accusing him of treason.  He was stripped of his office, arrested and for the next three years subject to torture to make him renounce his Catholic faith.  Devasahayam remained steadfast; his wife Gnanapoo was safe at the Jesuit mission.  In 1752 sentence was eventually passed against him and he was condemned to death.   The execution was to take place at Kuzhumaikkad, and the pre-execution ritual was observed, with the condemned being brought to the place of execution on a buffalo.  When he reached the place, however, Devasahayam was told that the king had granted a reprieve – the death sentence had been commuted to a series of tortures and then banishment. 

On his journey to exile, he was painted with red and black spots and put on public show as a traitor, beaten every day and given only stagnant water to drink.   According to the traditions of local Catholics, God worked miracles to quench the Blessed’s thirst, and Devasahayam is believed to have healed people.  When he reached the place of exile, Aralvaimozhy, he settled down to a life of prayer and meditation.  Among the local people he gained a reputation as a holy man and they began to flock to him.  In these encounters, Devasahayam preached the Gospel.  However, local Hindu priests were not happy and they conspired to rid themselves of the Christian holy man.

On the 14th January 1752 soldiers went up to the place where Devasahayam lived to shoot him.  Unable to fire their guns, the holy man took one of the weapons and blessed it and gave it back to his persecutors.  Untouched by his holiness, the soldiers fired again and killed him.  His body was discarded, but later recovered and buried in the Church of St Francis Xavier in Kottar.

Controversy surrounds the life and martyrdom of Blessed Devasahayam.  Some historians claim that there was no persecution of Christians at that time in Travancore, yet contemporary documents show that the conversion of state officials to Christianity was not permitted .   That he was killed is accepted, but some maintain that he was executed for treason and sedition and not for his faith.  There is enough evidence, however, to prove that Devasahayam was indeed martyred for his faith, and many local traditions, which were found to be sound, testify to his holiness and miracles.  After an exhaustive examination of the evidence, Pope Benedict signed the Decree of Martyrdom, and the beatification took place last Sunday in Kottar.  His body rests in the Cathedral of Kottar.

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