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The Catholic Defender: Saint Pedro de San José Betancur


Betancourt was born at Vilaflor on the Island of Tenerife in 1626, one of the five children


As a small child, he worked as a shepherd, caring for his family's small flock, their only source of income, but also spending some time praying in small cave


Central America claimed its first saint with the canonization of Pedro de San José Betancur. Known as the “Saint Francis of the Americas,” Pedro de Betancur is the first saint to have worked and died in Guatemala.


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

Thavana, 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.


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.


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.


As a penance, each night he went out to carry a heavy cross through the streets. Peter later founded a congregation for the care of the poor, the Bethlehemite Brothers and Sisters. Deeply devoted to the Christ Child, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the relief of the souls in purgatory, Peter was a promoter of the Franciscans' rosary of the Seven Joys of Mary, and instituted a weekly rosary procession in Guatemala City. He died on April 25, 1667.

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, similarly 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 Saint 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.


“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.


Deeply devoted to the Christ Child, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the relief of the souls in purgatory, Peter was a promoter of the Franciscans' rosary of the Seven Joys of Mary, and instituted a weekly rosary procession in Guatemala City. He died on April 25, 1667.


The liturgical feast of Saint Pedro de San José Betancur is celebrated on April 25.


The healing of a child with an intestinal lymphoma was taken by the Catholic Church as the miracle required for his canonization. The circumstance occurs that this child was precisely a native of Betancourt's native locality, Vilaflor.


Betancourt was known to work miracles also, some of them including healing sick people in under an hour. Also getting notes from deceased family members by setting rocks out and letting the member arrange them over time


He was beatified on June 22, 1980, and canonized on July 30, 2002, by Pope John Paul II. At the homily read by Pope John Paul in Guatemala City on July 30, 2002, Betancourt was called the "first Tenerifean and Guatemalan saint",


Among other facets of his life, his defense in the Immaculate Conception stand out two centuries before the declaration of said dogma, his devotion to the souls of Purgatory and his penances.

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