(March 19, 1626-April 25, 1667)
The story of St. Pedro proves that with persistence and conviction a person of modest intellectual capacity and little means can achieve great things.
He was born extremely poor on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands and was a simple shepherd until he was 24 years old. He then left to go to Guatemala, hoping to connect with a relative engaged in government service there.
By the time Pedro reached 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 joined the breadline that the Franciscans had established.
He tried his luck at the local Jesuit college in hopes of studying for the priesthood. No matter how hard he tried, however, he could not master the material and eventually withdrew from school. 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, Pedro began walking through their part of town ringing a bell and inviting them to repent.
Other men came to share in Pedro’s work. Out of this group came the Bethlehemite Congregation, which won papal approval after Pedro’s death. A Bethlehemite sisters’ community, founded after Pedro’s death, was inspired by his life of prayer and compassion.
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 died in 1667 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in Guatemala City on July 30, 2002.
Calling the new saint an “outstanding example” of Christian mercy, the Holy Father noted that St. Pedro practiced mercy “heroically with the lowliest and the most deprived.” Speaking to the estimated 500,000 Guatemalans in attendance, the Holy Father spoke of the social ills that plague the country today and of the need for change.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: St. Pedro de San José Betancur | Franciscan Media. (n.d.). Franciscan Media. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-pedro-de-san-jose-betancur