St. Pedro de San Jose Betancur
Born a poor shepherd, Pedro devoted his time with the flocks to prayer. At age thirty-one, he journeyed to Guatemala City in hopes of a job away from the sheep. Befriended by the Jesuits and Franciscans of the area, he enrolled in the Jesuit College of San Borgia in hopes of becoming a priest. However, with little background education he was unable to master the material, and withdrew. He then took private vows, and became a Franciscan tertiary, taking the name Peter of Saint Joseph.
Three years later he opened Our Lady of Bethlehem, a hospital for the convalescent poor. Soon after there was a shelter for the homeless, schools for the poor, and an oratory. Not to neglect the rich of Guatemala City, Pedro walked through their part of town, ringing a bell, begging support for the poor, and inviting the wealthy to repent. Other men were drawn to Pedro’s work, and they formed the foundation of the Bethlehemite Congregation or Hospitalers Bethlehemite, which earned papal approval after Pedro’s death. He is the first canonized Guatemalan native.
Pedro built chapels and shrines in the poor sections of the city, and promoted the ministry of intercessory prayer among those who had nothing except their time. He is sometimes credited with originating the Christmas Eve posadas procession in which people representing Mary and Joseph seek a night’s lodging from their neighbors. The custom soon spread to Mexico and other Central American countries. Legend says that petitioners need only tap gently on Peter’s stone tomb in order to have their prayers fulfilled. Stone tablets scratched with thank-you notes are often left on the tomb afterwards.