Tag Archives: India

His name was Devasahayam, and he was the First Indian Martyr. His Canonization has been approved. Date TBA

Bl. Devasahayam                                                             youtube.com

By Larry Peterson

He was born as Nilikandan Pillai* in 1712 in the southern part of the Indian sub-continent. He grew up serving in the palace of King Marthanda Varma, the ruler of Travancore in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu. Nilikandan was a good man and a hard worker who always tried his best to do the right thing. The King liked him, but Nilikindan lost much of his possessions after several poor harvests. He was very depressed and feared losing the respect of the King and the people.

Nilikandan explained his problems to a devout Catholic man, a Dutch official by the name of Benedictus Eustachio de Lannoy. Benedictus explained to Nilikandan the meaning of suffering. He told him how Catholics had to put their trust in God for all things. Nilikandan came to believe and,  after nine months of preparation, was baptized by Father Giovanni Butarri, a Jesuit missionary. The year was 1745, and he took the name Devasahayam which is the Tamil translation of the biblical name, Lazarus, which means “God has helped.”

On his Baptism day, Devasahayam dedicated himself solemnly to Christ. He prayed, ““No one forced me to come; I came by my own free will. I know my heart: He is my God. I have decided to follow Him and will do so my whole life.” His life was no longer the same; Devasahayam dedicated himself to the proclamation of the Gospel for four years.

The leaders of the local religions were quite upset with Devasahayam’s conversion to Christianity. He began being threatened and soon after beaten. Before long, he was imprisoned and tortured. This went on for three years. Despite the brutal treatment, Devasahayam remained steadfast in his faith. His wife, Bhargavi Ammal, also became Catholic. She took the name Gnanapoo which means Theresa.  The combined conversion of both the husband and wife seriously offended the upper-caste Hindus, and the King commanded Devasahayam to reconvert to Hinduism. He refused.

Devasahayam was setting an example that many people began to follow.  The king was furious and ordered his arrest. The year was 1749 and Devasahayam was charged with treason and espionage. He was dragged into prison,m tortured and then banished to the Aralaimozhy Forest, in a remote section of the country. Documents attest to the fact that on the journey to the forest  Devasahayam was beaten regularly, had pepper rubbed in his wounds and into his nostrils, was exposed to the brutal sun, and given contaminated water to drink.

Crying, he prayed to God and fell, smashing his elbow on a rock. Water poured from the rock, and it was drinkable water. This rock continues to pour forth water to this day and people visit the fountain in large numbers. Many have received miraculous cures from drinking the water. It is called  Muttidichanparai  meaning the rock from which water gushed forth.

In 1752, he was taken into  Pandya country near the edge of the forest. He was in deep meditation when people from the nearby village began visiting the holy man. The Hindus decided it was time to get rid of  Devasahayam. A soldier went up to where  Devasahayam was praying and attempted to shoot Devasahayam, but his gun would not fire. Devasahayam took the gun in his hand and blessed it. Then he gave it back to the soldier, and the soldier aimed and fired five times, killing Devasahayam. His body was cast over a cliff near the foothills of Kattadimala. The date was January 14, 1752.

Local Christians retrieved the body and buried Devasahayam in front of the altar of St. Francis Xavier Church, which today is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Kottar. He was declared Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on December 2, 2012.  He has been known as Blessed Devasahayam Pailli.*

Since a new miracle has been credited to Blessed  Devasahayam and he will now be declared a saint, the caste name of Pailli will be dropped. He is, until canonization,  Blessed  Devasahayam. He will become Saint Devasahayam.

*Pillai is a Hindu caste name. Apparently it was never used when he was baptized. People from that caste did not want the Pillai name included with a Catholic saint’s name. The Vatican issued a decree approving this request on February 25, 2020.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020

Stabbed repeatedly, she kept saying over and over, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” Then she breathed her last.

Blessed Rani Maria Vittalil                              wikipediacommon.org

By Larry Peterson

She was born in a place called Kerala, a state on the southwest coast of India. The date was January 29, 1954, and she would be the second of seven children born to Paily and Eliswa Vattalil. They named her Mariam after the Blessed Mother, and she was baptized one week later in the Church of St.Thomas. Mariam received both her First Holy Communion and Confirmation on April 30, 1966, and never missed a catechism class. Deep inside her was a call to serve God, and the only person she told that too was her cousin, Cicily, who also felt a calling.

When Mariam finished high school, she joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation in nearby Kidangoor. She took the religious name of Rani Maria. Her cousin Cicily joined also and chose the name, Soni Maria. They both began their aspirancy (initiation) period on July 3, 1971, and completed it on October 3, 1972. The cousins made their first profession of vows on May 1, 1974. After a year and a half, Rani was sent to St. Mary’s Convent in Bijnor, arriving Christmas Eve, 1975.

Sister Rani Maria took her final vows on May 22, 1980, and continued teaching school. In July of 1983, she was transferred to St. Hormis Church in Ankamaly, Kerala as the new coordinator for social activities. It was during this time that she earned her degree in sociology from Rewa University.

Soon after getting her degree, Sister Rani began working with the poor and deprived. She was extremely caring and had deep compassion for poor people. She started to make enemies of the landlords and money-lenders. They had the people under their control taking advantage of them daily, and they did not want anyone, no matter whom, to disrupts their operations.

Sister Rani began organizing the locals who were exploited by the loan sharks. She developed self-help groups and taught the poor to work together to overcome the obstacles to their daily lives. She also explained to the uneducated poor how to get available government services that were available to them and which they did not know about. The poor people of the area began calling her “Rani of Indore—the Queen of Indore.” But the money lenders and others who preyed on the downtrodden decided Sister had to be eliminated.

As was her routine, Sister Rani woke up early on February 25, 1995, to go to daily Mass. She and another sister hurried down the street to the bus stop. After Mass, Sister Rani got on the bus which was heading to the county offices to pick up and drop off some various paperwork. She then planned to get another bus to go see her parents.

The sister who had accompanied Sister Rani to Mass left her and headed back to the convent. At the next stop three men boarded the bus. They sat close to Rani and started taunting her yelling profanities at her. She sat quietly, frightened and not daring to say anything. The taunting and name-calling continued for a short time. Then, one of the men, whose name was Samundar Singh, stood up and asked the driver to stop the bus. The driver did as Singh was told.

Singh got off the bus and broke a coconut against a rock. He then got back on the bus and began giving the pieces to the passengers. When he got to Sister Rani he mocked her by dangling a bit of coconut in front of her. Then the man pulled a long knife from his cloak and began stabbing Sister Rani. First he plunged the knife into her stomach and then over and over into her helpless body. The people heard saying over and over as she was being stabbed “Jesus,” “Jesus,” “Jesus.”

When Singh was finished killing her he had stabbed her 54 times. He dragged Sister Rani’s bloody corpse into the street and left it there. As the attack went on the passengers were so terrified they never moved. Once it was over they fled in terror.

The police contacted the nuns, who retrieved the butchered body of Sister Rani Maria. They took her back to the convent and cleaned her and prepared her to lie in state. Thousands of people came to Sister Rani’s funeral in the cathedral at Indore. Many bishops and hundreds of clergy were present at the Mass. They all had loved the little nun who had worked so long and hard to help the poor. A day of mourning was put in effect for the entire country.

The hired killer, Samundar Singh, was sentenced to life in prison. Abandoned and alone, he was bitter and forsaken.  But Father Michael Poraltukara, (who the people called Swami Sadhananda) kept visiting him. One day Father asked him if he would be willing to meet Sister Selmy Paul, the true blood sister of Sister Rani Maria. It took a few visits, but finally Singh agreed to meet his victim’s sister.

On August 31, 2002, Sister Selmy Paul, accompanied by Father Michael, visited the prison to see her sister’s murderer. Singh, a Hindu, was shocked when Sister Selmy offered him her forgiveness. He was overwhelmed by the nun and began pleading with her to forgive him for his crime. Incredibly, through the grace of God, the following year Sister Rani Maria’s mother visited Singh.

Demonstrating the power of  God’s unbridled love, she kissed both of Singh’s hands in forgiveness. Then the entire family came and offered him their forgiveness. They also asked the court to pardon him. Samundar Singh was released in 2006. Their Christian actions changed       Singh’s life. He asked to be baptized and embraced Christianity. The Vittalil family not only forgave Singh they welcomed him to his family as one of their own.

On November 4, 2017, Samundar Singh was present as Sister Rani Maria, with the approval of Pope St. John Paul II,  was beatified by Cardinal Angelo Amato in Indore, India. Singh stood and wept during the entire ceremony.

Blessed  Regina Mariam of Vattalil, pray for us.

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

Servant of God; Father Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly (Kathanar)

Venerable Payyappilly Varghese Kathanar

By Larry Peterson

On April 14, 2018, Pope Francis met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He presented the cardinal with the names of eight Catholics who have attained the designation of Servants of God. This designation is awarded to those who have attained the first pedestal on their road to canonization. Among those named was Servant of God, Father Varghese Payyapilly Palakkappilly (yes, that is a definite tongue-twister so we will keep it at Father Varghese).

Cardinal Amato was authorized by the Holy Father to place those named worthy of receiving a promulgation of “the Heroic Virtues.” Pope Benedict XIV, 1740 to 1758, who is considered the defining authority on these virtues, wrote five volumes about them. They are still used in determining if a Servant of God meets the criteria of demonstrating ‘heroic virtue.’

A simple way to think of  ‘heroic virtue’  might be as a virtue that has become a second nature.  It becomes a habit of good behavior that can only be attained through the love of God and a closeness to Him, a closeness that most of us never reach. Heroic Virtue must be a part of those who would be advanced to the level of Venerable from Servant of God.

Father Varghese was born in India, in the province of Kerala, on August 8, 1876. He attended St. Albert’s School in Ernakulam which is on the southeast coast of India. From St. Albert’s he moved onto the Central Seminary in Sri Lank (formerly Ceylon) an island off the coast of India. From there he attended the Papal Seminary, also in Sri Lanka, where he was ordained a priest on December 21, 1907.

Father Verghase was assigned as a parish priest and served as such in various parishes from 1909 thru 1922. While serving at the parish in Arakuzha, he began St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School. His presence and efforts at the school and church helped reunite many estranged families and succeeded in making the church self-sufficient through land purchases.

Father Verghase also managed to acquire land for the construction of St. Joseph’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He remained there until 1929. It was reported that during Father Varghese’s tenure there, vocations to the priesthood exploded.

Father Verghases’s reputation as a kind and loving priest continued to grow. He became a member of the Diocesan Council and the Director of Apostolic Union as well as the Priests’ Provident Fund. People from all over came to him because they wanted his counsel to help them with their problems. He managed to bring many families back together using the wisdom he received from the Holy Spirit.

The simple priest was held in high esteem both by church officials and government officers. His empathy for the poor and suffering and his reputation spread far and wide after he helped many victims of the great flood of 1924. He even turned St. Mary’sHigh School into a shelter and delivered food himself by boat.

On March 19, 1927, Father Verghese founded the Sisters of the Destitute. His intention was to continue what he saw as Christ’s saving message among the poor. He found abandoned people, brought them to the shelter of the Home for the Aged and nursed them.

Today the Sisters of the Destitute, have over 1500 nuns and also include among its ranks doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers. They are located in Asia, Europe, Africa and across the United States.  The operate such institutions as homes for the sick and needy, health centers, libraries, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and cancer centers.

Payyappilly Palakkappilly Varghese Kathnar (that is Father Verghese’s full name) died from typhoid fever on October 5, 1929. He was buried at St. St John Nepumsian Syrian Catholic Church in Kornthurthy, India. On August 25, 2009, Father Verghese was declared a Servant of God by the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar CatholicChurch.

When Pope Francis authorized Father Verghese as worthy of having “the heroic virtue” he (aswell as the seven others) were elevated to the rank of Venerable. A miracle attributed to Father Verghase is under review for Father Verghese and if validated, Venerable Verghase Payyappilly may become beatified.

Venerable Verghase Payyappilly, please pray for us.