Religious Order Hopes Canonization Boosts Its Ranks

Papal Visit to Guatemala Awaited

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GUATEMALA CITY, JULY 12, 2002 ( A religious order is hoping the canonization of its 17th-century founder in Guatemala this month will inspire new vocations.

Today the Order of the Brothers of Bethlehem, founded on 1658 by Brother Pedro de San José Betancur, the apostle of the Indians and slaves of Antigua, has 15 religious, including two priests.

Brother Pedro, a Spaniard, arrived in Antigua, the colonial capital of Guatemala, in 1651. He became famous for dressing the wounds of the indigent he found on the streets, before carrying them to hospitals on his shoulders.

Brother Pedro will be declared a saint July 30 during an open-air Mass in Guatemala City’s Race Track — the highlight of John Paul II’s 24-hour visit to this country.

“Brother Pedro fever” has swept the country. About 500,000 people are expected to attend his canonization.

“We hope there will be people who will join us after the canonization,” said Friar Simeón Maldonado, who lives in his order’s Guatemala City monastery. Other members of the order live in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Pedro de Betancur’s birthplace.

Pedro began his studies to be a Franciscan friar in Antigua, but poor health forced him to abandon this path. He then dedicated himself to the neediest and built a small hospital where he housed the sick at night and taught children during the day. He is said to have been responsible for many miracles during his lifetime.

In the early 19th century, the order had 500 members and hospitals extending from Mexico to Argentina. But it was banned by the Spanish crown in 1820, claiming it gave refuge to pro-independence activists.

The men’s order was restored in 1984 by Father Luis de la Cruz of Tenerife, following John Paul II’s beatification of the founder. Today these religious are dedicated to the charitable care of the sick and elderly.

The Order of the Sisters of Bethlehem was able to survive continuously. It now numbers about 800 and works in four continents but especially in Colombia, Mexico, India and Cameroon.

The nuns administer colleges and schools for the poor, homes for abandoned children and elderly, and children’s parks. They conduct missions to Indians and peasants.

More than 300 Bethlemite men and women religious will attend the canonization.

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