Who is Santo Hermano Pedro?
San Francisco Church in Antigua celebrates the anniversary of Santo Hermano Pedro’s death (1667) on April 25 with concerts and fireworks. An allegorical procession goes throughout the streets of Antigua after the 2 p.m. mass on Sunday, April 29.
Hermano Pedro de San José Betancur was born on March 21, 1626, in Vilafor on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. After working as a shepherd until his early 20s, he set out for Guatemala, hoping to find a relative there.
First arriving in Havana, Cuba, practically penniless, he earned money to travel to Antigua (then known as Santiago de Guatemala). As he entered Antigua, there was an earthquake—which may contribute to Antiguans considering a small earthquake to be a welcome today.
Enrolling in the Jesuit College of San Borja (Compañía de Jesus) to become a priest, he could not master the material and was not able to graduate. He then became a Franciscan tertiary and took the name Pedro de San José.
While visiting the sick in hospitals, jails and in their homes, he later founded the first hospital for the convalescent poor at Belen in Antigua. This included a shelter for the homeless, schools for the poor, a chapel and an inn for priests. He also founded the first order of the Bethlemites, who have been influential in Guatemala. Hermano Pedro is well known for establishing the Christmas posada processions and the nativity scenes that have flourished in Guatemala in most Catholic homes.
Buried at San Francisco Church, he was beatified on June 22, 1980. When I asked Fray Augusto Ramirez, the Franciscan priest in charge of commissioning the sculpture and robe for the procession we enjoy every year, he said, “Hermano Pedro represents humility and helping others.” Hermano Pedro became a saint when Pope John Paul II canonized him on July 30, 2002.
His works are carried out today through the Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro at the hospital (6a calle oriente #20) where Franciscans, Guatemalan doctors and nurses work with medical teams from countries including Spain, Canada and the United States.
Founded by Fray Guillermo Bonilla in 1984 at the San Pedro Hospital that dates back to 1663, the Obras serves more than 260,000 patients a year. This is a great time to donate to the Obras as it celebrates Santo Hermano Pedro Day. Donations are received at the hospital entrance.