Saint Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur
Feast Day is April 18
The man we now call the “St. Francis of the Americas” began life as a poor shepherd. He often lived in a cave. As he cared for the sheep, he spent his time growing closer to God in prayer. He longed to travel to Guatemala City, where he hoped he could earn a better living.
Peter saved his small earnings until he had enough money to begin the journey. By the time he arrived, his money was gone. He was starving. He joined a line of poor people waiting for free bread baked by Franciscan priests. The Franciscans became Peter’s friends. He decided that he wanted to study for the priesthood and join them in their work.
Peter was not a good student. No matter how hard he studied, he could not make good grades. He had to drop out of school. He learned that there was a way that he could serve God and others—he could become a Franciscan brother. Franciscan brothers serve their community through service, work, and prayer.
Soon Peter had opened a hospital for the poor. He built shelters for the homeless and schools for the poor, an inn for priests, and churches and shrines in the poor areas of Guatemala City. He earned enough money to build these places by going to the wealthy sections of the city, ringing a bell and begging for help for the poor.
Many people believe that Peter began the tradition of posadas, processions in which people represent Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve. Many people visit St. Peter’s grave in Antigua, Guatemala every year. Legend says that people only need to tap on the tomb to have their prayers answered. Thank you notes, some of them scratched on stone tablets, are often found on the tomb.
St. Peter of St. Joseph Betancur is the first canonized Guatemalan saint. He cared about the poor and helped people to remember Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
from Saint of the Day Lives, Lessons and Feast, By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.; revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
Two Hearts – One Love