Last week saw the annual pilgrimage from El Médano in honour of Tenerife’s only saint, Hermano Pedro (Brother Pedro), a humble goatherd whose work helped transform the lives of millions people on the other side of the world.

Born in 1626 in Chasna, now Vilaflor, the first half of Hermano Pedro’s life was spent herding goats between Vilaflor and an isolated cave near El Médano. In 1649 at the age of 23, Pedro made a decision that was fated to leave an indelible mark on the world; he left his cave and set forth for the New World.
Two years later, impoverished and seriously ill, Pedro arrived in Guatemala City, where he recuperated in a Franciscan hospital for the poor. His experience amongst the city’s destitute souls had a profound effect and he decided to devote his life to helping them. Taking on menial work to finance his vocation, he divided his spare time between the hospital, visiting prisons and giving guidance to delinquents.
Pedro aspired to become a Jesuit, but lacking the academic background he had to settle for being a tertiary with a Franciscan order, whose garden he tended and where he planted an “˜esquisúchil’ tree, known as Brother Pedro’s miracle tree which still blooms to this day.

In 1658, Pedro established his own hospital. As his reputation amongst the poor grew, so did his patients and, supported by the Bishop of Guatemala, he expanded the hospital. He also built a school, where he promoted self improvement as well as educating the city’s underprivileged children. His work is acknowledged as having advanced teaching techniques and being an early version of a social services system.
Although his approach to teaching was modernistic, his personal religious practices weren’t. He regularly performed acts of self mortification such as flagellation and he carried a wooden cross on his back during Semana Santa processions.

In April 1667, Pedro died prematurely, aged 41. But, by then he’d founded the order of the Bethlehemites who continued to spread his word and perform acts of charity in his name across Central America, earning him millions of devotees.

On the 30th July 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Brother Pedro in Guatemala City, calling him an outstanding example of Christian mercy.
The planting of an “˜esquisúchil’ tree in Guatemala in July 2007 was a symbolic gesture to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Brother Pedro’s canonisation and to honour the saintly former goatherd from Tenerife.

Many of the island’s millions of visitors who fly into Reina Sur airport have probably never heard of Brother Pedro. Ironic, considering that nearly every one of them passes within a few hundreds yards of his cave, now a shrine, as it lies in a small ravine at the end of the runway.

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