YOUTH MATTERS: Becoming fully Human – Saint Pedro de San José Betancur

Becoming fully Human: Saint Pedro de San José Betancur

By Sam Clear, Director of the Office of Youth Evangelisation

I recently visited Guatemala for two weeks, amidst great political turmoil. Due to road blockades I was stranded for four days in the beautiful old city of Antigua, nestled between three enormous volcanos.

It was here, in Antigua, that I encountered a piece of paradise. I attended Mass at the beautiful 16th century Church of St Francis and met one of the Franciscan friars afterwards.

When I shared that I’d worked for a year on the streets of Sydney with the Capuchin Franciscans he whisked me off for a private tour of the original, earthquake damaged, cloister.

It wasn’t so much the physical grounds that he wanted to share with me though, but the life of one of their former friars; Guatemala’s equivalent to our St Mary of the Cross Mackillop, their first Saint, St Pedro de San José Betancur.

Central America’s first saint has been dubbed the “St Francis of the Americas”. St Pedro arrived in Guatemala from the Canary Islands as a poor twenty-four-year-old, but sought to study with the Jesuits to become a priest.

St Pedro had worked as a shepherd in the Canary Islands though and lacked the level of education of his contemporaries at the Jesuit college, forcing him to soon withdraw from studies.

Unable to complete his priestly training he instead joined the Franciscan Secular Order and three years later helped to establish a hospital for the poor that also offered shelter for the homeless and a school for those unable to afford an education. 

Along with his care for the physical needs of the city’s inhabitants he also sought to assist the wealthy, taking to the streets with a bell in hand, ringing it as he walked, inviting everyone to repent.

St Pedro died in 1667 and was canonized by St John Paul II in Guatemala City on July 30, 2002, in front of an estimated 500,000 attendees.

During his homily the pope encouraged everyone, “Let us think of the children and young people who are homeless or deprived of an education; of abandoned women with their many needs; of the hordes of social outcasts who live in the cities; of the victims of organised crime, of prostitution or of drugs; of the sick who are neglected and the elderly who live in loneliness.”

St Pedro de San José Betancur set out to study for priesthood, but those studies weren’t necessary for Christ to live in and through him.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the humble arrival of God into our world, may the life of St Pedro inspire us to allow Christ to live in and through us, helping us to become fully human.

Tags: Youth Evangelisation