Hermano Pedro

viaduct-vilaflor.jpgPerhaps it really was the quality of the local water that was reflected in the life of  Peter de Betancurt, later to become known as Hermano Pedro de San José Betancurt.

Born on March 19, 1626, at Vilaflor , he died on April 25, 1667 in Guatemala City, Guatemala, where he later became known as the St. Francis of the Americas.

Peter was a descendant of Juan de Betancurt, a Norman who took part in the conquest of the Canary Islands. His line of the family however, was very poor and he started work as a shepherd, tending the family’s small flock until the age of 24.

His parents raised him as a good Catholic and his contact with nature gifted him a deeply contemplative mind, seeing God in everything around him.

hermano-pedro.jpgWhile still in Tenerife, he spent some time in a little cave in the arid region near the present-day town of El Médano, Granadilla de Abona. The cave has since become a shrine visited by thousands of pilgrims every year, who leave stones on the cross honouring the saint.

When Peter heard about the miserable living conditions of the people of the West Indies he felt called to take the Christian message to this land. In 1650 he left for Guatemala where a relative had already gone to become secretary of the governor general.

His funds ran out when he reached Cuba so Peter had to work his passage from there on a ship bound for Honduras, from where he walked to Guatemala.

Peter was now so poor that he had to stand in line for his daily bread at the Franciscan friary. It was there he met Friar Fernando Espino, a famous missionary, who befriended him and remained his lifelong counsellor.

He found Peter a job in a local textile factory. But Peter very much wanted to become a priest and in 1653 enrolled in the local Jesuit College, the College of San Borgia.

But no matter how hard he tried, he could not reach the academic level required and left the school.

Unable to take holy orders, he found work in the convent of Costa Rica in Antigua Guatemala, where he visited hospitals, jails, the unemployed, and the young and took the name Peter of Saint Joseph.

Three years later, in 1658, Peter was given a hut that he converted into the Our Lady of Bethlehem Hospital for the poor who needed to convalesce after being discharged from the city hospital.

Peter received help from both the civil and religious authorities and soon after there was a shelter for the homeless, schools for the poor, an oratory, and an inn for priests.

Soon other men and women joined him, to become the Bethlehemite Brothers and the Bethlehemite Sisters. During this period, Peter formulated a rule of working with the poor, the sick, and the less fortunate, based on a life rich in prayer, fasting and penance.

brother-pedro2.jpgThe new religious order was eventually recognised and approved by the Church in Rome.

Having lived a life of poverty and devotion to good works, Peter died in Antigua, Guatemala at the age of 41.

It is said that Peter could always see in the poor the face of the child Jesus, which led him to devote his life to serving them.

His goodliness was officially recognised by the Church when he was beatified on June 22, 1980. Later, on July 30, 2002 he was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II at a ceremony in Guatemala City.
At the ceremony the Pope referred to Peter as Tenerife’s first saint.

tomb-of-hermano-pedroHis tomb is in the San Francisco Church, in Antigua, Guatemala. Legend says that petitioners need only tap gently on Peter’s stone tomb in order to have their prayers fulfilled. Stone tablets scratched with thank-you notes are often left on the tomb afterwards.