Hermano Pedro de San Jose de Betancur (1626-1667)
Central America gained its first saint with the canonization of Hermano Pedro de San José Betancur (Brother Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur) who is more simply known as Hermano Pedro,
Hermano Pedro is known as the "St. Francis of the Americas" and was the first saint to have worked and died in Guatemala.
Calling Pedro an “outstanding example” of Christian mercy, the Pope John Paul II noted that he practiced mercy “heroically with the lowliest and the most deprived.” Speaking to an estimated 500,000 Guatemalans in attendance, the Holy Father spoke of the social ills that still plague the region.
“Let us think of the children and young people who are homeless or deprived of an education; of abandoned women with their many needs; of the hordes of social outcasts who live in the cities; of the victims of organized crime, of prostitution or of drugs; of the sick who are neglected and the elderly who live in loneliness,” he said in his homily during the three-hour liturgy.
Hermano Pedro very much wanted to become a priest, but God had other plans for the young man born into a poor family on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Pedro was a shepherd until age 24, when he began to make his way to Guatemala, hoping to connect with a relative engaged in government service there. By the time he reached Havana, he was out of money. After working there to earn more, he got to Guatemala City the following year. When he arrived he was so destitute that he had to depend on the bread line which the Franciscans had established.
Soon, Pedro enrolled in the local Jesuit college in hopes of studying for the priesthood. No matter how hard he tried, however, he could not master the material. He withdrew from school and in 1655 he joined the secular Franciscan Order. Three years later he opened a hospital for the convalescent poor; a shelter for the homeless and a school for the poor soon followed. Not wanting to neglect the rich of Guatemala City, Brother Pedro began walking through their part of town ringing a bell and inviting them to repent.
Others came to assist in Pedro's work. Soon they became the Bethlehemite Congregation, which went on to earn official papal approval after Pedro's death.
He is sometimes credited with originating the Christmas Eve posadas procession in which people representing Mary and Joseph seek a night's lodging from their neighbors. The custom soon spread to Mexico and other Central American countries.
Pedro was beatified in 1980.
He is honored in the Church of San Francisco in Antigua Guatemala (or Old Guatemala City) where one wall is covered with testimonies of miracle and healings that God has performed after Hermano Pedro's intercession.
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