LA PAZ – Newly appointed Bolivian Cardinal Toribio Ticona Porco came from the humblest of origins.
“Many Bolivians did not know him,” one of the priest’s close relatives, who asked to remain anonymous, told EFE. “He has gone unnoticed thus far and now (Bolivians) are getting to know him.”
According to the source, Ticona was born into a family of four children in the Andean region of Potosi in April 1937.
His father, a former combatant in the 1932-1935 Chaco War between with Paraguay, died when Ticona was a young child, forcing him to hold various jobs to help his family, first as a shoeshine boy and then as a newspaper hawker, before working in a mine during his teenage years.
Ticona later met the two Belgian missionaries who founded the Catholic Working Youth (JOC) association at Potosi’s Church of the Immaculate Conception, where he worked as a bell ringer, altar boy and even a Quechua interpreter.
The “people’s priest” – as he was known to locals due to his penchant for helping “miners and peasants” – was ordained at age 30 and in 1992 he became the bishop of Corocoro, located some 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of La Paz and which is a regular waystation and resting point for demonstrators marching to the capital with various demands.
The relative who spoke with EFE also said that the bishop provided “food and shelter” to President Evo Morales – then the leader of the coca growers – during the protest marches he led during the 1990s.
“President Morales surely considers him to be his companion-in-arms,” the source added. “(Ticona) helped him, just like he did any person who needed assistance.”
At a press conference earlier this week, Ticona referred to Morales as a “friend.”
On Oct. 13, 2003, when a military platoon attempted to suppress a march by miners demanding the resignation of then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, the priest confronted the soldiers “telling them not to shoot, as they would cause a massacre.”