Bolivian cardinal-designate noted for identifying with country’s poor

Bolivian Cardinal-designate Toribio Ticona Porco waves after celebrating Mass May 31 in La Paz, Bolivia. Pope Francis announced May 20 that he would make the retired prelate a cardinal along with 13 other churchmen during a June 28 consistory. (CNS photo/Isabel Navia)

By Isabel Navia 
Catholic News Service

LA PAZ, Bolivia (CNS) — Bolivian Cardinal-designate Toribio Ticona Porco, whose varied jobs have included shining shoes as a child and performing mayoral duties, is known as a humble man who identifies with the marginalized.

Pope Francis announced May 20 that he would make the retired prelate a cardinal along with 13 other churchmen during a June 28 consistory.

The nomination is “a joy for all of us in Bolivia and a special sign of God’s presence among our people,” Archbishop Edmundo Luis Abastoflor Montero of La Paz said at a May 31 Mass attended by about 3,000 people in an amphitheater in La Paz.

Cardinal-designate Ticona, 81, retired bishop of Corocoro, was born in Atocha, Cornelio Saavedra province, which is one of Bolivia’s poorest areas.

Sister Ana Maria, who arrived early for the Mass, noted that the cardinal-designate comes from a poor mining district. “He has worked as a shoeshine boy, as a miner, but he also speaks several languages,” she said.

Despite being retired, he was nominated because “his life has been very hard,” the nun said. Cardinal-designate Ticona, 81, will be able to influence the Bolivian government, because he identifies with “the dispossessed people of the countryside,” she added.

“I hope he can strengthen the union of Christians, so that our country will be blessed,” said a woman named Teresa, standing in the sun near Sister Ana Maria.

His father was a miner who left his family when the cardinal-designate was a child, and his mother, who had never learned to read and write, put all of her efforts into raising her two children.

In his homily, Cardinal-designate Ticona said he worked several jobs as a child, including shining shoes and selling newspapers.

“I did everything out of love for my mother,” he said, noting that he had once lied about his age so that he could enter the army and leave his home with one less mouth to feed.

After the arrival of Belgian missionaries in 1955, he entered the Catholic Church. The missionaries encouraged him to enter the seminary, and he was ordained in 1967.

He dedicated his priestly life ministering to and working alongside local miners in the small town of Chacarilla. The town of 2,000 people had no local government structure, so Cardinal-designate Ticona served as mayor for 14 years, attending to local matters during the week and celebrating Mass on the weekends.

On special occasions, he would celebrate the Eucharist and then change into civilian clothes to direct proceedings as mayor. “It was a very nice experience,” he said in his homily, noting that he was respected in the community “because everything was under my control; something that no other priest had done before. I decided to do all that and I did it well.”

The cardinal-designate was a trade union leader and mediated conflicts between miners and the military. He also served as chaplain of a military regiment.

Among the way, he helped poor communities, including establishing a grocery store with low-priced food and assisting low-income families to access housing.

He was named auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Potosi in 1986 and as head of the Territorial Prelature of Corocoro in 1992 by St. John Paul II. He retired in 2012.

As a priest and later a bishop, Cardinal-designate Ticona took part in protest actions for the rights of indigenous peoples.

“I have done everything I could. God has always inspired me,” he said. “I have faced all the circumstances of life and that is why I always say that when you have an ideal you must follow it against all odds, then one has the satisfaction of having fulfilled it.”

After years of physical and spiritual work, Cardinal-designate Ticona saved enough money to buy a plot of land in Cochabamba for his mother. She is buried there, and he has said he hopes to be buried alongside her.

The cardinal-designate said that he has always saved the money he received from various services.

“I have enough money and, after evaluating my life, my social condition and my poverty, before I die I would like to build a house in my town for poor kids,” he said.

“I am not vain, I have always worked anonymously, serving God first of all, with no ostentation or pride. … That makes me happy, because it’s evident that God has helped me,” he said.

Despite having Parkinson’s disease, Cardinal-designate Ticona still feels good, he said, noting that, “perhaps God still has work for me to do. Whatever it is, I’ll do it with pleasure.”

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