Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur

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Saint Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur
Statue of Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur in the Cave of Santo Hermano Pedro (Tenerife).[1]
Born March 21, 1626
Vilaflor, Tenerife
Died April 25, 1667
Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified June 22, 1980, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican by Pope John Paul II
Canonized July 30, 2002, Guatemala City, Guatemala by Pope John Paul II
Major shrine Cave of Santo Hermano Pedro and Sanctuary of the Santo Hermano Pedro (Tenerife) and San Francisco Church in Antigua, Guatemala
Attributes Holds a walking stick and bell
Patronage Canary Islands, Guatemala, Central America, catechists of Guatemala, Honorary Mayor of municipalities in the south of Tenerife and Honorary Mayor of Antigua Guatemala, of those who are homeless.
Controversy No description of the two Miracles needed for Beatification & Canonization

Brother Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur (March 21, 1626 (Tenerife) - April 25, 1667 (Antigua Guatemala), called Hermano Pedro de San José Betancurt or more simply Hermano Pedro, Santo Hermano Pedro, or San Pedro de Vilaflor, was a Spanish saint and missionary. Known as the "St. Francis of Assisi of the Americas", he is the first saint native to the Canary Islands, is also considered the first saint of Guatemala and Central America.


Pedro de Betancourt was a descendant of the Juan de Betancourt, who, early in the fifteenth century, achieved the conquest of the Canary Islands for Henry III of Spain.[2] He was born at Villaflora on the Island of Tenerife in 1626. He worked as a shepherd, spending some time in small cave[3] in the arid region near the present-day town of El Médano (municipality of Granadilla de Abona).

In 1649, at age 23, he began to make his way to Guatemala,[2] the capital of New Spain, in hopes of connecting with a relative engaged in government service there. By the time he reached Havana, Cuba, he was out of money. Peter had to pay for his passage from that point by working on a ship which docked at Honduras from where he walked to Guatemala City.[4] After He arrived in Guatemala City so destitute that he joined the bread line which the Franciscans had established. He found Peter a job in a local textile factory.

In 1653 Pedro enrolled in the Jesuit College of San Borgia to study for priesthood. When after three years he could not master the material, he withdrew from the school[3] and abandoned this idea. After holding the position of sacristan for a while in a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, he rented a house in a suburb of the city called Calvary, and there taught reading and catechism to poor children.[2]

Unable to receive holy orders, Pedro became a Franciscan tertiary in the convent of Costa Rica in Antigua Guatemala, and took the name "Peter of Saint Joseph". He visited hospitals, jails, the unemployed, and the young. In 1658 Peter was given a hut which he converted into a hospital for the poor who had been discharged from the city hospital but still needed to convalesce.[4] His zeal elicited benefactions from those around him and the bishop and governor supplied him with all the conveniences he required.[2]

Three years later several individuals provided for the purchase of the houses surrounding the one he then occupied and on their site was erected a hospital in which he could better work. He himself worked with the masons. The hospital was thoroughly equipped and stocked. The institution, a hospital for the convalescent poor, was placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Bethlehem. Soon after there was a shelter for the homeless, a school for the poor,[5] an oratory, and an inn for priests.

The Bethlehemites[edit]

Peter was joined by other tertiaries. He personally trained his first assistants and had no wish to organize a community, but simply to establish his hospital. Soon, however, he wrote up a rule, which was also adopted by the women who were involved in teaching the children. This led to the formation of a new religious order: la Orden de los Bethlemitas y de las Bethlemitas, (the Bethlehemite Congregation or Hospitalers Bethlehemite) who tend to the sick. The brothers also lent their assistance in the two other hospitals of the city and Pedro continued to befriend poor children.

Later years[edit]

Prisoners also excited his compassion. Every Thursday he begged for them through the city and visited them in their cells. He begged for alms to endow the Masses celebrated by poor priests and also endowed Masses to be celebrated in the early hours so that the poor might not miss Mass.[4] The neglected souls in purgatory were also the objects of his solicitude. He would travel the streets at night ringing a bell and recommending these souls to be prayed for.

He died, April 25, 1667, at the age of forty-one, in Antigua Guatemala, exhausted by labor and penance. At the request of the Capuchin Fathers he was buried in their church where, for a long time, his remains were held in veneration.

Brother Pedro devoted his life to helping those marginalized: lepers, prisoners, slaves and Indians and served as precursor of Human Rights.[6]


Pedro de Betancurt was distinguished by the humble spirit and austere life with which he practiced mercy.[7] He was beatified on June 22, 1980, and canonized on July 30, 2002, by Pope John Paul II. At the homily read by John Paul II in Guatemala City on July 30, 2002, Hermano Pedro was called the "first Canarian and Guatemalan saint", and he "... personifies "a heritage which must not be lost; we should always be thankful for it and we should renew our resolve to imitate it".[7]

His tomb is in the San Francisco Church, in Antigua Guatemala. The Cave of Santo Hermano Pedro is located in the south of the island of Tenerife, in a desert on the outskirts of the city of El Médano. It is a very popular pilgrimage site, where the faithful present votive offerings to the saint. Inside the cave is a wooden statue of the saint. Also an important place of veneration is the Sanctuary of the Santo Hermano Pedro, which is built on his birthplace in Vilaflor.


St. Pedro is considered the great evangelist of the West Indies. He is sometimes credited with introducing to the Americas, 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.[5]

He 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.


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