Cardinal Thomas C. Collins of Toronto walks in St. Peter's Basilica after being receiving his red hat from Pope Benedict XVI during a consistory at the Vatican Feb. 18. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Cardinal Thomas Collins receives his red biretta [w/ video]

  • February 18, 2012

Other than doing a "happy dance," Canada's newest cardinal every bit resembled a man who just won the lottery.

"It's a tremendous moment of joy," said His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins after Pope Benedict XVI accepted him into the College of Cardinals on a sunny Saturday morning.

"It's astonishing and amazing to be there at St. Peter's, at the tomb of St. Peter," Collins said.

"I'm just overwhelmed by the experience. It's a very joyful experience. I'm filled with wonder and joy and a great sense of gratitude."

Collins, 65, became the 16th Cardinal in Canadian history -- and only the fifth from English Canada -- at precisely 11:22 a.m. in packed St. Peter's Basilica when the Pope placed a scarlet biretta on the head of Toronto's archbishop.

He was the 12th of 22 bishops called forward during the ancient and solemn ceremony. Although he had earlier joked about being "liturgically clumsy," he strode confidently to the altar above the Tomb of St. Peter and knelt before the Pope to receive his biretta and gold ring.

The Pope asked him to receive the biretta "as a sign of dignity of the cardinalate, signifying your readiness to act with courage, even to the shedding of your blood." Minutes earlier, Collins had professed an oath, pledging to be faithful, obedient and to act always in the best interest of the Church.

Here's the gold ring Cardinal Thomas Collins received from Pope Benedict.In addition to the biretta, Collins received a gold ring and a scroll that bore than name of his honorary parish in the diocese of Rome. He is now the symbolic pastor of San Patrizio (St. Patrick's). His cardinal's crest will be hung above the main entrance of the church to recognize that Collins, as a pastor in Rome, is eligible to vote in papal conclaves for future bishops of Rome.

The gold ring was newly created for this ceremony. On its face are figures of Saints Peter and Paul separated by an eight-point star in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The crest of Pope Benedict is engraved on the back.

After the installation of the new Cardinals, the Pope approved the cause of canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and six others. Tekakwitha, who was born in upstate New York and moved to what is now Quebec as a young woman, is the first Native North American to rise to sainthood. The seven new saints will be canonized on Oct. 21.

Collins' elevation to the College of Cardinals was witnessed by about 150 pilgrims, many of whom had to watch on outdoor monitors after the basilica quickly filled to capacity. They were joined by 14 Collins family members, Cardinal Jean-ClaudeTurcotte of Montreal, some 25 government dignitaries, led by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and many Rome-based clergy, including Vatican-bsased Cardinal Marc Oullete, Prefect for the Congregation for Bishops.

Pope Benedict XVI presents a red biretta to Cardinal Thomas C. Collins of Toronto during a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 18. The pope created 22 new cardinals from 13 countries -- including two from the United States and one fro m Canada. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

"He looks so very good in red," said Collins sister Catherine. "He certainly stands out."

As she watched from a seat near the front of the Church, Catherine said she thought about her parents and aunts and uncles.

"They would have been so thrilled, so proud that the youngest in the Collins family -- on both sides of the family -- had become a cardinal."

Collins used the occasion to call on Catholics to "celebrate our faith with joyful boldness."

Cardinal Turcotte and Archbishop Durocher flank Cardinal Collins at a reception in his honour

While he agreed with his sister that bright red robes means he'll now stick out in a crowd, he reminded an audience of well-wishes that red is the colour of martyrdom. He said that as archbishop of Toronto, he frequently encountered people from around the world who faced martyrdom and that "there are more martyrs in this century than in the first century."

"That should make us take our faith more seriously," he said. "We are not all called to do for Christ, but we are called to live for Christ," he said.

Cardinal Turcotte wished Collins "good luck -- and courage."

"I'm a fan of Thomas Collins," said Turcotte. "It will be very useful for the Church to have a man like Thomas Collins (as a cardinal). The word of God is so important to us. In Cardinal Collins we have a scholar who can translate it for the people of the Church."

Collinsred3The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was represented by Gatineau archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher. He said it is important to have a cardinal to speak on behalf of the Church in English Canada.

"Tom Collins will do that in a powerful and meaningful way," said Durocher.

Durocher said he has known Collins for many years and has long admired Collins ability to articulate complex ideas.

"I've been touched by the intellectual intelligence and practical intelligence that he brings to delicate issues. He also brings a sense of integrity, deep conviction and a sense of humour. It's a quirky sense of humour. You have to get used to it but, once you do, it's like fine wine -- you want to come back to it. "This is an important day for all the Church in Canada."

Toronto auxiliary bishop John Boissonneau says Collins will bring vision and sound advise to the life of the Church.

"He gives it oomph," said Boissonneau.

"He brings his experience and wisdom to the universal Church. This makes him a co-worker of the Holy Father. It gives him a higher profile in the world Church. That's important too."


Cardinals are selected by the Pope. Boissonneau suspects Collins impressed Benedict by his pro-active response to the sex-abuse crisis, particularly his role as an Apostolic visitor to Ireland, and also by his determined work on behalf of persecuted Christians in the middle east.

"Obviously, his words and actions caught the eye of the Holy Father," Boissonneau said.

Many people who know Collins agree he has a rare ability to be serious when it matters without taking himself too seriously.

"There is a definite sense of him being able to laugh at himself and there is a complete lack of pretension," said Toronto auxiliary bishop William McGratton. "But what I've come to appreciate most is his real love for the priesthood -- not only his own vocation but for all bishops and priests."

As the highest-ranked Catholic prelate outside Quebec, Collins will be delegated by default the responsibility of becoming the primary spokesman for the Church in English Canada.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.