“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Ac 4:12).
Even before his conversion to Catholic Faith, the Servant of God had strong faith in God, but it was according to the Hindu faith, as it was practiced then. When he met with difficulties in life in terms of loss of property, cattle and peace of mind, he found the peace of mind only after listening to De Lannoy who helped him see his life in the light of the experiences of Job. The initial catechesis did not stop only with the story of Job, De Lannoy also narrated to him or made him read the life of Jesus and the supreme sacrifice Jesus made for the salvation of human kind and in acceptance of the Father’s will. We can identify the following emphases in the quality of Devasahayam Pillai’s Christian faith.
- The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Saviour of the World:
- Compatibility of Christian faith to Reason:
- Stand against any kind of superstition:
Meditation on the life and activities of Christ in Galilee and Jerusalem made Nilakandan firm in his commitment to follow Christ, in response to His call, “Follow me”. Moreover, the courage shown by Jesus at the face of opposition from the Roman rulers instilled the same courage in him7. He began to see the History of Salvation and the events thereof as fulfilling his desire to know the true God. He found that the stories narrated about the Hindu gods were “repugnant to reason and to chaste ears”.8 His decision was clearly saying a definite “NO” to the faith in the Hindu gods and a decisive “YES” to the God of the Bible. His heroic death, therefore, is an act of proclamation of this faith in the one true God of the Bible, who said,
«Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Dt 6:4). “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them» (Dt 5:8-9). In Christian faith, this faith in the one God becomes an open acceptance of Jesus as the Saviour of the world and as one’s own Lord. Devasahayam Pillai had this conviction of faith: «There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved» (Ac 4:12).
There was in this “Travancore Martyr” an unwavering faith in Jesus as the only Redeemer. This comes up again and again in the arguments and discussions with the persecutors. He refused to compromise on this and that brought him into confrontation with the enemies of Christian faith. Throughout the tortures this faith in Jesus came out constantly in ejaculatory prayer: “Jesus save me”.9 Finally, at the moment of his death, “For the last time he uttered the very familiar words “Jesus, save me” and surrendered his blessed soul to God”10.
This unqualified proclamation and public acceptance of Jesus as the Redeemer and the Son of God attains relevance in the increasing violence against Christians in some parts of the world and in India in particular. After the recent murder of the only Christian Pakistani minister, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, 42 , Cardinal Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said in an interview that such an affirmation adds meaning to martyrdom as witnessing to the truth of salvation. He said,
«For a Christian, Jesus is the only Savior and Mediator between God and men. Without this spiritual identity, one cannot dialogue… avoid any sort of syncretism, we do not say that all religions are more or less the same thing, but that all believers have the same dignity, which isn't the same thing…..Therefore a Catholic begins by affirming his own faith without giving room to ambiguity.»11
Devasahayam Pillai’s faith in the Lord Jesus as the only Saviour and as his own personal Lord as well was shown in his eagerness to meet him in the Sacraments of the Church, which are moments of encounter with the same Lord, before his arrest and during the tortures.
His eagerness to meet priests and to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and even the Anointing of the Sick as a last anointing, are surely great witnesses not only of his Catholic faith but also clear marks of this spiritual and mental balance which were in place even in the thick of persecution and suffering, as witnessed to by the Bishop is his Ad Limina Visit Report.12
The first thing that happened to Nilakandan Pillai as he was listening to the matters of Christian faith from the mouth of Captain De Lannoy was that he recognized “all this to be conformable to reason”.13 It was this “conformability of Christian faith to human reason” that pleased Nilakandan and he wanted to know more about it all and finally pushed him to embrace it. Therefore, one of the things that Devasahayam Pillai often affirmed to the persecutors and to others during confrontations and preaching was this conformability of the actions of the God of the Bible to reason. In this light the neophyte Devasahayam Pillai exposed the superstition of those who challenged his new found faith.14 Buttari says, “This zeal stirred up against him the hatred of the heathens and particularly of the Brahmans”.15 Therefore, we can surely say that the Servant of God, by his Christian life and martyrdom bears witness also to the Christian faith’s conformability to human reason, an aspect that is insisted upon by St. Thomas Aquinas and the present Pope Benedict XIV.16
A clear stand against superstition is another aspect of the witness of martyrdom of Devasahayam Pillai. This stand is the result both of his deep faith in Jesus Christ as the Saviour and of his conviction of compatibility of Christian faith to human reason. In this era of science and technology, one of the things that lacks in the so-called “educated” is the right knowledge of religion and that has resulted in a return of many superstitious beliefs connected to astrology,17 numerology,18 black magic 19, devil worship20 and vastu.21