St Pedro de Betancur

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Priest and the first saint of Guatemala.

Born into a poor family on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Pedro was a shepherd until he was 24, when he began to make his way to Guatemala, hoping to connect with a relative engaged in government service there. By the time he reached Havana, he was out of money. After working there to earn more, he got to Guatemala City in the following year.

When he arrived he was so destitute that he joined the bread line which the Franciscans had established. Soon, Pedro enrolled in the local Jesuit college in hopes of studying for the priesthood. But he found studying very difficult and eventually left school. In 1655 he joined the Secular Franciscan Order.

Three years later he opened a hospital for the convalescent poor; a shelter for the homeless and a school for the poor soon followed.

Not wanting to neglect the rich of Guatemala City, Pedro began walking through their part of town ringing a bell and inviting them to repent. Other men came to share in Pedro's work.

He died in 1667, but his community went on to become the Bethlehemite Congregation. Pedro is known as the 'St Francis of the Americas'.

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 neighbours. The custom soon spread to Mexico and other Central American countries.

Pedro was beatified in 1980. On July 30 2003, he was canonised by Pope John Paul II in Guatemala City, before a crowd of more than 500,000 people. During the ceremony, the Holy Father said he was an outstanding example of Christian mercy. He said Pedro practiced mercy 'heroically with the lowliest and the most deprived.'