Brother Pedro, Model for New Evangelization

Illness Put Him in Contact with the Poor

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GUATEMALA CITY, JULY 30, 2002 ( During his 24-hour visit, John Paul II canonized Brother Pedro de San José de Betancur, the country’s apostle to the sick and poor.

Born in the Canary Islands of Spain on Sept. 18, 1626, in Vilaflor, Tenerife, he went to Guatemala as a lay missionary at age 24. Upon arrival, he said: «I want to live and die here.»

Serious illness put the Third Order Franciscan in contact with the poor of Guatemala.

After recovering his health unexpectedly, he became an apostle to captives and a protector of the Indians and immigrants. He sheltered orphaned and abandoned children, building schools to educate them properly.

He founded the first hospital for convalescents in the world, and was known frequently to dress the wounds of the poor and carry them to the sanatorium on his shoulders.

Brother Pedro also opened an oratory, which he called «the House of Our Lady of Bethlehem.» Other Franciscan tertiaries imitated him, sharing penance, prayer and charitable work with him.

Communal life took shape when Brother Pedro wrote a rule, which was also adopted by the women who taught the children. It was the beginning of the Order of Men Bethlemites and Women Bethlemites.

Around 1800, the order had 500 members. Hospitals were built from Mexico to Argentina. However, in 1820, the Spanish crown banned the order, claiming that it sheltered pro-independence activists.

The men’s order was restored in 1984 by Father Luis de la Cruz of Tenerife, after John Paul II beatified Brother Pedro in 1980. Today these religious work in Tenerife and Guatemala, dedicated to charitable care of the sick and elderly.

The women’s order, has about 800 religious in four continents, most especially in Colombia, Mexico, Cameroon and India.

Brother Pedro died at 41 on April 25, 1667.

«He was a tireless missionary and an intense and brilliant educator, who invented his own method of teaching, in which he combined song, game and dance,» Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, told the Pope on July 8, 2001, when the decree was published recognizing a miracle attributed to his intercession.

John Paul II proposed the saint as a model for the new evangelization in an address to the Latin American bishops’ council in October 1984.

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