“ “Whether it is right in God's sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
The conversion, life and heroic death of martyr Devasahayam Pillai is like a great example and lesson on evangelization ministry. It is the central message of his spirituality.
- Proclaiming Christ in and through suffering and death:
- I. Evangelization by Life
- Evangelization by word
- Evangelization by action
- Evangelization by takings risks
There is something very special about the martyrdom of Devasahayam Pillai: He was an evangelizer before, during and after the martyrdom.31 Before Martyrdom: The neophyte experienced great joy at becoming a follower of Christ through baptism. Zaleski writes:
«The future martyr never let a day pass without thanking God from the bottom of his soul for the grace of his conversion».32 The Christian joy in him was so great that he experienced within himself a great desire to share it with others. Devasahayam not only became an ardent follower of Christian faith, but he also went on his work as a great missionary, evangelizing others.33 The Vadakkankulam diary bears witness to the zeal of the neophyte Devasahayam in the following words:
«The graces he got from heaven as illustration of mind, strength of will, abundance of faith, hope and charity may be supposed from his subsequent conduct. When he returned to Travancore with the name of Lazarus or Devasagayam, he could truly say like his patron, “I have revived from among the dead.” He had revived indeed and he will not die any more – he was already here – he was on the way to martyrdom. From the day of Baptism, Devasagayam was an apostle in his family – he converted his wife in the midst of his friends and relations.»34
Basic to his apostolate was his good example. It was this good example that added inspiration to his words.35 Two characteristics of his personality helped him further in putting into practice his missionary zeal: He was by nature an extravert, looking out to other people, to the needs and joys of others. Therefore he intended that “all should receive the good he had discovered.”36
Secondly, he was also gifted with the capacity to speak in a logical way.37 He won the conversion of his own wife after much warning and “bitter threats”38 from his mother in law. Then some more from his family and caste too accepted the faith of Christ. “His dear and near ones, his relatives, renounced everything and became one with the Faith”.39 Then he was also instrumental in the conversion of some of his companions in the army.
Finally he was like a leader among the Christians, arguing for them, taking up their cause with the prime-minister, king and the prince. All these set the stage for the arrest and eventual condemnation of Devasahayam Pillai by those who hated Christian faith, in a Kingdom which had been dedicated to the Hindu deity Sri Padmanabhaswamy, and where the Hindu religion was the official religion.
Preaching the Christian faith was dangerous: one had to be ready to bear the consequences of doing this in a Hindu Kingdom. The punishment meted out to Christians, especially of the higher castes was exile. First they would be advised to abandon the Christian faith. When they refused to abandon their Catholic faith, they were exiled and sent to out of Thovala, into the Pandiya Kingdom. This continued even after Devasahayam Pillai had been eliminated.40
But for Devasahayam Pillai, the punishment was much higher, death. The ministers demanded death for Devasahayam Pillai for being a leader among the Christians. They said: “Chief among them is Devasagayam Pillai, who, though living with such a vile and infamous set, dares to come to court and deal with such polished and noble people as Brahmans are; and for this he deserves death.”41 They also accused Devasahayam Pillai of influencing the King’s heir-apparent to donate a land to the Christians to build a church.42 They also exaggerated that two parts of the kingdom had already become Christian.43 Then they warned that if action was not taken immediately, the entire kingdom would become Christian and there would be nobody to worship in temples or to carry the Hindu gods. Dalava, who was engaged successfully in wars and won victory for the king, even said that those victories of the King over his enemies lost their brilliance because of the presence of Christians in the Kingdom.44
During the martyrdom: The tortures of Devasahayam Pillai continued for three years. The torturers thought that time would change his mind. But the contrary became true. Though at times the Servant of God felt a little discouraged, because repeatedly the condemnation of death was revoked, yet he was not released either. But the Servant of God made use of these years not only for advancement in his personal spiritual life, but also for continuing in every way the task of evangelization.