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Betancur (Bethancourt), Pedro de San José, Bl.

BETANCUR (BETHANCOURT), PEDRO DE SAN JOSÉ, BL.

Franciscan tertiary, missionary, and founder of charitable institutions and the Hospitaler Bethlehemites; b. Villaflores, Chasna, Tenerife Island, Spain, May 16 (or September 18), 1619; d. Guatemala City, Guatemala, April 25, 1667. Although he was descended from Juan de Bethancourt, one of the Norman conquerors (1404) of the Canary Islands, his immediate family was very poor and his first employment was as shepherd of the small family flock. In 1650, he left for Guatemala where a relative had preceded him as secretary to the governor general. His funds ran out in Havana, and Pedro had to pay for his passage from that point by working on a ship. He landed in Honduras and walked to Guatemala City, arriving there on February 18, 1651. He was so poor that he had to join the daily bread line at the Franciscan friary. In this way he met Fray Fernando Espino, a famous missionary, who befriended him and remained his lifelong counselor. Through Fray Fernando, Pedro was given work at a local textile factory, which enabled him to support himself, but which also employed culprits condemned by the court. In 1653, he entered the local Jesuit college of San Borja in the hopes of becoming a priest, but he lacked the ability to study and was soon forced to give up this dream. In the college, however, he met Manuel Lobo, SJ, who was his confessor throughout the rest of his life.

Fray Fernando invited him to join the Franciscan Order as a lay brother, but Pedro felt that God called him to remain in the world. Hence, in 1655, he joined the Third Order of St. Francis and took the tertiary habit as his garb. By this time his virtues were widely recognized in the city. In 1658, María de Esquivel's hut was given to him, and Pedro, remembering the experiences of his first desperate days in Guatemala, immediately began a hospital (Nuestra Señora de Belén) for the convalescent poor, a hostel for the homeless, a school, an oratory, and a nursing community known as the Bethlehemites. From then on, all his time was spent in alleviating the sufferings of the less fortunate. He begged alms with which to endow Masses to be celebrated by poor priests; he also endowed Masses that were to be celebrated at unusually early hours so that the poor might not have occasion to miss Mass because of their dress. He also had small chapels erected in the poorer sections where instruction was given to the children. On August 18, he would gather the children and have them sing the Seven Joys of the Franciscan Rosary in honor of the Blessed Mother, a custom that passed to Spain, but today remains only in Guatemala. On Christmas Eve he inaugurated the custom of imitating St. Joseph in search of lodgings for the Blessed Mother.

The gentle, kind man known as "St. Francis of the Americas" died peacefully in his hospital, hoping that his companions would carry on the many works he had begun. He is entombed in the Church of San Francisco in the old section of Guatemala City. Interest in his cause was renewed by the 1962 publication of his biography by Vázquez de Herrera, which led to his beatification by John Paul II on June 22, 1980. On July 7, 2001, a second miracle attribute to his intercession was approved. Upon his canonization Betancur will become Guatemala's first saint.

Feast: April 25 (Franciscans).

Bibliography: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 73 (1981): 253258. Gracias, Matiox, Thanks, Hermano Pedro: A Trilingual Anthology of Guatemalan Oral Tradition, ed. & tr. m. c. canales and j. f. morrissey (New York 1996). L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, no. 26 (1980): 1011. j. arriola c., Los milagros del venerable siervo de Dios, hermano Pedro de San José de Betancourt, efectuados en su vida y después de su muerto py su digno sucesor fray Rodrigo de la Cruz (Guatemala 1983). a. estrada monroy, Breve relación de la ejemplar vida del venerable siervo de Dios, Pedro de San Joseph Betancur (Guatemala 1968). t. f. hall de arÉvalo, El apóstol de la campanilla (Guatemala 1980). f. a. de montalvo, Vida admirable y muerte preciosa del venerable hermano Pedro de San José Betancur (Guatemala 1974). m. soto-hall, Pedro de San José Bethencourt, el San Francisco de Asís americano, 3d. ed. (Guatemala 1981). f. vÁzquez de herrera, Vida y virtudes del V. Hermano Pedro de San José de Betancur, ed. l. lamardrid (Guatemala City 1962). d. de vela, El Hermano Pedro (en la vida y en las letras) (Guatemala City 1935 & 1961).

[l. lamadrid]

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