Wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, Cardinal Collins hammed it up for a photographer in St. Peter’s Square, resulting in a picture of pure happiness and contentment. Emanuel Pires, Archdiocese of Toronto

A cardinal’s joy

  • February 22, 2012

Cardinal Thomas Collins is a happy person by nature but there was something particularly joyful about him during his journey to Rome to become a cardinal.

Many people commented on it. He was seldom without a smile, without a quip, without infectious exuberance.

A couple days before he received his red hat, Collins was asked how he was feeling. “Imminently eminent,” he replied, with a broad smile. The next day, wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, he hammed it up for a photographer in St. Peter’s Square, resulting in a picture of pure happiness and contentment.

In the autumn of 2010, there was considerable speculation that Collins would be named a cardinal when Pope Benedict XVI filled several vacancies. Previously that year, the late Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic had turned 80 and thus became ineligible to vote in papal conclaves, leaving English Canada without a voice in the College of Cardinals. By recent tradition, the archbishop of Toronto has held a seat in the College among eligible voters and so Collins seemed likely for promotion.

By chance, he was in the Vatican at the time of the announcement. Speculation was swirling. None of it came from Collins. Any such talk displeased him greatly. Bishops do not seek greater office but only serve if they are called by the Pope. But so-called Vatican insiders had Collins on the short list and, in Toronto, excitement was building.

But the Pope in his wisdom chose others to receive the red biretta, which left Collins to do what he had been doing all along — working diligently and faithfully to spread the Good News and to serve the Church according to the will of the pontiff. In addition to previous commissions, he was named an Apostolic Visitor to Ireland to report on that country’s clerical abuse crisis, made a member of the commission on the English liturgy and became Canada’s delegate to implement the Pope’s directive to accommodate Anglicans wishing to become Catholic.

It would be inappropriate to suggest that Collins’ call to the College of Cardinals was overdue, but it is entirely appropriate to call it well earned and a blessing for the Church in Canada. And, even though he would be unlikely to say so himself, Collins must have felt a sense of relief when the call finally came.

Due entirely to the aspirations of others, Collins faced a burden of expectation and the pressure that goes with it. The pressure was kindled by the tradition of Canada’s largest diocese having a cardinal of voting age and stoked by the many who recognize Collins’ rare abilities as a pastoral shepherd, gifted communicator and strong leader. But with one phone call in January, the pressure was lifted.

Collins has been spreading the joy ever since.

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