Pope Francis canonized Lazarus Devasahayam on May 15, 2022, making him the first lay martyr in India to be canonized a saint.
Lazarus was a convert from Hinduism in the 18th century, influenced by Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, a Dutch naval commander. Lazarus became interested in Christianity through the commander’s faith and was later baptized at the Catholic church of the Vadakkankulam village by the Jesuit priest, Fr. R. Bouttari Italus.
He took the baptismal name of “Lazarus” or “Devasahayam,” meaning “God is my help.”
Lazarus became outspoken against the caste system in India, fighting for the equality of all people.
Vatican News explains how his vocal opposition drew the anger of many people.
His refusal to worship the Hindu gods of the palace and renouncing the traditional Hindu religious festivals greatly angered the officers. They could not tolerate his preaching on the equality of all peoples, the overcoming of castes and friendship with the untouchables of the lower classes, which is forbidden for a person of high caste.
False charges of treason and espionage were brought against him and he was divested of his post in the royal administration. He was imprisoned and subjected to harsh persecution. A Catholic for only seven years, he was shot dead in the Aralvaimozhy forest on January 14, 1752.
While Christianity has been present in India for many centuries, possibly brought by St. Thomas the Apostle, Lazarus Devasahayam is the only native lay person to be ever canonized in India.