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My God will be your God: Unity in marriage through the same faith –

“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Devasahayam Pillai was a married lay person killed for faith and therefore his Cause is that of a married lay person as a martyr. That is one of the reasons put forward by the Bishops why the Process should be accelerated.93 Naturally, then there is the question: What his message to the married people? He is said to be an example for married people:94 we ask: How? One of the historians of Devasahayam Pillai, Amalagiri Anthonymuthu, who himself was a married lay person, speaks of Devasahayam Pillai’s married life after his conversion. He says that both the neophytes, Devasahayam Pillai and Gnanapu, led a chaste married life avoiding luxuries and consumerism of the world. In the midst of sufferings and repeated loss of properties, they also shared whatever they had with others.95

Besides these qualities and virtues, there are two things about which the historical documents speak: the need of the couple to belong to the same faith and the need for “the conjugal community” to have the same social vision. Since almost all documents speak about it and in the background of the existing situation in India today, we shall highlight these two aspects for a wholesome catholic married life today.

Devasahayam Pillai loved his wife dearly and he believed that they both were two yet become one (Cf. Mk 10: 8; Gen 2:24). He was of the view that to be able to live out this oneness, it was necessary that both of them shared the same faith and worshipped the same God. The new Christian Devasahayam Pillai spoke to his Hindu wife thus:

«Though we are two persons, aren’t we united as one in marriage? That being the case is it not wrong for you to worship false gods while I worship the true God? … Therefore, you must also accept the holy Faith.»96

His wife Bhargaviamma had two difficulties in accepting the proposal of her husband: one was that she was against abandoning the faith of the ancestors and the other was that she was against being identified with the Christians who were considered as low in the society. These were two problems in one! Expressing them both in one Bhargaviamma said:

«Must we renounce the gods that our ancestors and all the people from the king downwards worship and then embrace this new faith that is practised by the lowly classes? Who can do an act like this?»97

For Devasahayam Pillai too both were two sides of the same coin: Religious faith and social vision, faith in true God and equality of all people! He explains both in one saying:

«You ignorantly assume that the lowly and the noble have different gods and different religions. Think well. Look at the lowly and the high castes: is it not the same sun that shines down on both, the same wind that blows on both, the same rain that falls on both, and the same earth that bears both? Thus there is one God and one religion for both the high and low castes. There is one heaven for all virtuous men, and there is one hell for all the sinners. That being the case, don’t think futile thoughts about many gods and many religions. … Thus we must worship the one true God,…»98.

Bhargaviamma was not so forth willing to accept his arguments. She was even obstinate in her refusal to accede to the wish of her neophyte husband. Her mother’s advice was against her embracing Christian faith. Devasahayam Pillai was grieved vey much because of her obstinacy. But he was gentle yet insistent.

«The husband’s constancy conquered the wife's obstinacy, and in the end he brought her to the faith with such happy result that, not caring for her mother's importunate tears and bitter threats, she embraced and submitted herself to Christ's sweet yoke.»99

But Gnanapu, probably due to the ill-advice of her mother, or threatened by the people of her own family or caste, for some time renounced Christian faith during the persecutions but soon repented and embraced it again. Devasahayam Pillai had the opportunity to meet her a few times during the three year journey of suffering towards his death. When he came to know of the imminent and sure death for the faith, Devasahayam Pillai sent her word and she came to see him for the last time in the prison at Aralvaimozhy. It was indeed a moving farewell from a very loving husband. The Servant of God encouraged and advised his wife in following terms:

«My loving spouse, do not be disheartened that you have had no happiness but only suffering on account of being married to me. You have been a partner in my sufferings and humiliations. If you bear these sufferings with patience, you will be a sharer in the heavenly prize that God will offer. … The time has come close when God will call me to Him. The time of my death approaches. You will not see me again…. If you remain in this country after my death the members of your community will bother you a lot. So you should flee to some other place. There the Lord will protect you from all harm. Do not be anxious that we will lose our relatives. The Lord is our relative and our helper. You should pray to God for me that, just as He has given me the grace I needed to patiently endure the sufferings that have been inflicted upon me till now, He might strengthen me so that at the time of my death, I may not waver out of fear.»100

Gnanapu wept bitterly and was unable to speak out of her sorrow. He encouraged her saying:

«Have no fear, God will help and support you, and by His grace, we shall be both united in heaven».101

Unity between two persons does not require that they constantly look at each other, but rather that together they look towards the same direction102. Religion and religious faith provide that vision necessary to move towards a direction. For such a unity within the conjugal community of husband and wife it is necessary that both of them belong to the same religious faith. This also could be seen from the point view of family as a community of love, as defined by Familiaris Consortio.103 What makes a community different from just a group of persons or a crowd is the vision and movement towards the same goal. How can wife and husband make a community if both of them have different vision of life and its goal? Therefore, it is necessary that the couple belong to the same religion. In this respect, the life and martyrdom of Servant of God, accompanied by his wife Gnanapu provide us a necessary direction in the multi-religious situation of India.