Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins let his Toronto pride shine through Thursday, sporting a personalized Toronto Maple Leafs jersey in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Emanuel Pires, Archdiocese of Toronto - archtoronto.tumblr.com

Collins is enjoying his moment in the sun

By 
  • February 17, 2012

ROME - With a wink and a smile, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins describes himself as  "imminently eminent."

That's eminent as in hours away from becoming His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, archbishop of Toronto.

In a ceremony that has been stripped of some of its pomp by Pope Benedict XVI, Collins and 20 other bishops will kneel before the Pope in St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday morning to be welcomed into the College of Cardinals. The Pope will place a red biretta on the head of each new cardinal and give them an engraved gold ring as well as a scroll with the name of their new honorary parish in Rome. The ceremony will begin at 4:30 eastern time and will be available live on Salt+Light Television.

"It'll be an adventure," said Collins, who has seldom been without a smile since arriving in Rome five days ago.

In addition to 14 family members, Collins has been joined in Rome by about 150 pilgrims from Toronto. He has been doing several media interviews, spoken by Skype with students from two schools (one in Mississauga, the other in his hometown of Guelph, Ont.), met briefly with the Pope and, on Friday, spent a day of prayer and reflection with the pontiff and other cardinals.

A contingent of politicians and other dignitaries, led by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, was to arrive on Friday.

Despite a busy schedule, Collins has found time to enjoy himself this week. Naturally affable, Collins is eager to share the joy that his faith brings him. On Thursday that meant donning a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey and hamming it up in St. Peter's Square.

"This is a fun way to let them and all Catholics in our diocese know that I am thinking of them at this time," Collins said. "I am truly proud and humbled to serve them all."

Collins isn't sure exactly what to expect during Saturday's ceremony. In past years, the installation of cardinals was done over two days. On the Saturday, cardinals received their red hats and at a special Mass on Sunday the Pope presented them with their rings. This year, everything will be handled in one, streamlined ceremony that, according to the papal office, is intended to "avoid any interpretation that becoming a cardinal is a sacrament like ordination."

Collins jokes that he has always been "liturgically clumsy" and is hoping he doesn't slip up during the ceremony. All the new cardinals have spent time with Vatican protocol officers to learn the ins and outs of becoming a cardinal. The cardinal red vestments that he'll wear have been specially ordered and the biretta precisely sized to avoid an awkward moment when the Pope lays it on the head of the new cardinal. There have been cases in the past where an ill-fitting biretta hit the floor.

"I have a particularly large head," joked Collins.

He said he may buy a complete second set of vestments that he will leave in Rome to avoid having to transport his Toronto vestments overseas when he is called to the Vatican.

"They are quite heavy," he said. "It gets expensive if you have to pay the extra baggage fee to bring them back and forth."

Collins will become the 16th cardinal in Canada's history, just the fifth from English Canada.

With respect to challenges he'll face as a cardinal, Collins says the challenges will be pretty much the same as they have been since his ordination as a priest.

"Every day I just want to be a good priest," he said. "The challenge that all Catholics face is to be faithful. Most of my duties will still be the same, but I'll come to Rome more often for meetings."

Looking ahead to Saturday, he told a Grade 3 class in Mississauga that he never dreamed of becoming a cardinal.

"I never, ever thought about becoming a cardinal," he said. "I wanted to be a priest. It was a very powerful moment in my life when I came to that realization. It changed my life."

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