In April, we celebrate the Ruta del Camino del Hermano Pedro. He is acknowledged as the first, I think the only, native saint of the Canary Islands, and the first saint of Guatemala.
The route covers more than 20kms following the path the saint used as he moved his goats from Vilaflor, the highest village in Spain, down to a cave in El Medano where he spent the winters in the south of the island. I suppose he could be regarded as a ‘swallow’ and this as his holiday home. Since 2005, thousands have trod the route, the cave is considered one of the most important pilgrimage spots in all of the Islands, and each year attracts over 300.000 visitors.
As regulars know, I am not big on religion but I a fan of those old B&W movies, and learning about our island saint reminded me the A J Cronin novel ‘The Keys of the Kingdom’.
Briefly Hermano Pedro story is, he was a descendent of Juan de Betancourt one of the Conquistadors sent by the King of Spain to conquer the Canary Islands. The intervening years must have been harsh because by the time Pedro was born in Vilaflor in 1619, the family were poor and Pedro was a goatherd. As a young man, he hoped to better his life through contacting a relative who worked for the government in Guatemala. Like all good tales, nothing went quite to plan and Pedro ran out of money in Cuba and had to work his passage from Havana to Honduras. He then walked to Guatemala some 350 miles by which time he was so poor he had to rely on the catholic monks for food.
After working in a factory, Pedro decided to study for the priesthood, (enter Gregory Peck in priest garb) but gave the idea up after several years.
He moved into the suburbs where he taught the children to read and write and at night, he wandered the town helping and comforting the sick and needy. All in all a real good guy humbled by his experiences but determined to succeed. As time went by several wealthy individuals replaced, his improvised hut where he helped the sick back to health by provided him with a convalescent hospital. This was followed by a shelter for the homeless and a schoolhouse for the poor. In true missionary style, Brother Pedro formed a new religious order, The Order of Bethlehemites.
He died, from exhaustion at the age of 41 in Antigua. He was beatified in 1980 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. His tomb is in the San Francisco Church, in Antigua Guatemala.