Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto mingles with the other cardinals who were elevated to the College of Cardinals during the consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 18. The Pope created 22 new cardinals. That brings the number of cardinals to 213, 125 under the age of 80 and eligible to participate in a conclave to elect a pope. Photo courtesy of the archdiocese of Toronto

‘We are called to live for Christ’ - Cardinal Collins

  • February 22, 2012

ROME - Canada’s newest cardinal, resplendent in shimmering scarlet vestments, was still adjusting to his new look on Feb. 18 when he arrived at a reception in his honour. Barely two hours earlier he had become His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins after Pope Benedict XVI welcomed Toronto’s archbishop into the College of Cardinals on a sunny Saturday morning.

“These robes are very bright,” quipped Collins. “I’ll certainly stick out in a crowd.”

But as is often the case with Collins, there was a serious message behind the humour. Red is the colour of a cardinal because it is the colour of the blood shed by martyrs and the blood that cardinals, if called upon, swear to spill for their faith. After drawing attention to his “very bright” robes, Collins used his first public statement in red to remind Catholics that they, too, should stick out by their faith.

“We are not all called to die for Christ, but we are all called to live for Christ,” he said.

Collins was addressing a festive gathering of Toronto pilgrims, Rome well-wishers, Canadian media and a federal government party led by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at the Canadian Pontifical College just outside the Vatican. He used the occasion to emphasize that Christian martyrdom is not just a reality of the ancient Church. The red blood of Christian martyrs is being spilled today around the world.

“There are more martyrs in the past century than in the first century,” Collins said.

He noted that Canadians live in comfort and can worship freely. As the archbishop of Toronto, said Collins, he has frequently encountered people from around the world who face martyrdom. His red robes symbolize not only the bloodshed of the ancient Church but also represent ongoing persecution. The ceremony to create new cardinals is not “a fictional thing,” he said. It is “rooted in a reality” of martyrdom.

“We need to be edified and challenged by our brothers and sisters who are shot if they go to church,” Collins said. “It should make us take our faith very seriously. It should make us never take our faith for granted.”

He called Catholics to “celebrate our faith with joyful boldness.”

Collins, 65, had become the 16th cardinal in Canadian history — and only the fifth from English Canada — at precisely 11:22 a.m. in a packed St. Peter’s Basilica when the Pope placed a scarlet biretta on his head. He was the 12th of 22 bishops invested in the solemn and ancient ceremony. Although he had earlier joked about being “liturgically clumsy,” Collins strode confidently to the altar above the Tomb of St. Peter and knelt before the Pope to receive his biretta and gold ring.

“It’s a tremendous moment of joy,” Collins said. “It’s astonishing and amazing to be there at St. Peter’s, at the tomb of St. Peter.

“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.”

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 the cardinal’s oath, pledging to be faithful, obedient and to act always in the best interest of the Church.

In addition to his biretta, Collins received a gold ring and a scroll that bore the name of his honorary parish in the diocese of Rome. He is now the symbolic pastor of San Patrizio (St. Patrick’s) Church in an upscale Rome neighbourhood. His cardinal’s crest will be hung next to the main entrance of the church to recognize that Collins, a bishop of Rome, is eligible to vote in papal conclaves.

Collins’ elevation to the College of Cardinals was witnessed by about 150 Canadian pilgrims, many of whom had to watch on large outdoor video screens. A crowd estimated at more than 10,000 people, many lining up since dawn in temperatures barely above freezing, filled St. Peter’s Square waiting for the basilica doors to open. When finally they did at about 9 a.m., the seats filled in minutes and thousands of people, including many with entry tickets, were locked out.

Among the large Canadian contingent were 14 members of the Collins family, led by Collins’ sisters Patricia and Catherine, Cardinal Jean-ClaudeTurcotte of Montreal, more than a dozen government dignitaries, led by Flaherty, and many Rome-based clergy, including Vatican-based Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect for the Congregation for Bishops.

Unlike past years, when the ceremony was conducted over two days, the new cardinals, selected from 13 countries, were installed in a tight, 90-minute prayer service led by the 84-year-old Pope. He was shuttled down the main aisle and, on the altar, moved slowly and spoke softly. He said cardinals are called to love and serve, not to seek greatness.

“They are asked to serve the Church with love and vigour, with the transparency and wisdom of teachers, with the energy and strength of shepherds, with the fidelity and courage of martyrs,” said Benedict.

Collins said he was struck by the ceremony’s sense of continuity, by kneeling before the pontiff above the tomb of St. Peter as cardinals have done for centuries.

“It makes you recognize that you are grounded, grounded through the apostles,” Collins said. “Branches and twigs get lonely if they are disconnected from their roots. But we are connected.”

Sitting among the entire College of Cardinals, drawn from 71 countries, Collins said imparts a “sense of the breadth of the Church.”

“It’s a ceremony that reflects the universal Church,” he said.

The addition of 22 cardinals lifts the College of Cardinals to 213 members, with 125 cardinals under the age of 80 and eligible to participate in a conclave to elect a pope.

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