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, 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.
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, Cuba, 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 after three years, and in 1655 he joined the secular Franciscan Order. Three years later, he opened a hospital for the convalescent poor called Our Lady of Bethlehem; a shelter for the homeless and a school for the poor soon followed. Other men were drawn to Pedro’s work, and formed the Bethlehemite Congregation AKA Hospitalers Bethlehemite.
Pedro built chapels and shrines in the poor sections of the city, and promoted the ministry of intercessory prayer among those who had nothing except their time. He also loved to visit and tend to prisoners.
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.
He died on April 25, 1667. Read his story in detail by clicking here.
Brother Pedro, pray for us – that we may always teach the love of Christ by the witness of our lives!