Saint Peter of St. Joseph Betancur

St. Peter of St. Joseph Betancur, or Pedro de San José Betancur (1626-1667), also known as Hermano Pedro, was born into poverty in the Canary Islands. He was a shepherd until the age of 24 at which time he traveled to Guatemala, then the capital of New Spain, hoping to connect with a relative and to begin training to be a priest. The journey so impoverished him that he entered a bread line served by the Franciscans. He took up work in a textile factory and later entered a Jesuit college to study for the priesthood. Being too poor to continue his studies, he instead became a Franciscan tertiary. He dedicated his life to helping the poor and oppressed in jails and hospitals, as well as ministering to African slaves, Native Americans, and anyone else in need. He also founded a hospital, a school for the poor, and a homeless shelter. He also preached to the rich, inviting them to repent of their sins. Because of his effective apostolate he became known as "St. Francis of the Americas." People were attracted to his way of life and followed him, leading to the founding of the Bethlehemite Brothers and Sisters. In addition to serving the poor, they had the charism of special devotion to the Divine Child and the Blessed Virgin, and offered prayer and sacrifices for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Each night St. Peter would carry a heavy wooden cross through the streets as a form of penance and evangelization. It is also said that he was the first to start the Posadas procession during Advent. He died in 1667 and was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II as the first saint from Central America. His feast day is April 18.

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