Toronto's Cardinal Thomas Collins says the process of picking a pope has been something like a synod or a retreat. Photo by Michael Swan

Conclave is about prayer, not secrecy, says Collins

  • March 11, 2013

Updated 03/11/13 - Corrections

ROME - The process of picking a pope so far has been something like a synod and something like a retreat, said Toronto's Cardinal Thomas Collins just before celebrating Sunday Mass at his titular church in Rome.

Collins arrived for the 11:30 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick's, the ethnic parish for Rome's Irish community, in his red and white choir dress and took five minutes to joke and talk with reporters.

When reporters tried to draw Collins out on factors under consideration among cardinals going into the conclave, Toronto's archbishop refused to drop any hints or break the silence agreed upon by Cardinals shortly after pre-conclave meetings began.

"The point of it is not to be sort of secret," he said. "The point is to provide an environment where we can pray."

Proceedings inside the general congregations, or pre-conclave meetings, are formal, serious and carefully controlled by the dean of the College of  Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said Collins. "It's not very spontaneous, but it has been very fruitful."

Collins has been one of the more than 100 cardinals who have spoken during the general congregation. There are 115 cardinal electors at this conclave, but more than 140, including those over the age of 80, have participated in the pre-conclave general congregations. It took three days from the time Collins put his name forward to when Scola called his name to give a five-minute speech.

The cardinal did reveal some cardinals have had trouble limiting themselves to five minutes.

"We have had, I don't know, tons and tons of cardinals speaking up to and beyond the five-minute limit," Collins said.

With the general congregations happening in the same hall where synods are normally conducted, the cardinals' work so far has been fairly familiar to Collins, who has in the past attended synods as a bishop and archbishop.

"There's been a little back and forth, but with this number of people it is hard to have a free-flowing discussion," said Collins.

While there may be some quiet discussion among small groups of cardinals, and the cardinals spend some of their time reading up about the cardinals they don't know, most of the time the cardinals have been praying, Collins reports.

The cardinals have also joined their prayers with many people around the world who are praying for them – whether through the "Adopt A Cardinal" web site (, or in parishes, or individually.

"One thing we've been very conscious of is people praying for us. There's that adopt-a-cardinal thing we've heard about. It's very inspiring," he said.

Collins was at St. Patrick's to celebrate Laetare Sunday and preach on the parable of the Prodigal Son. These days in Rome are all about joy, he said.

"Very soon we will be rejoicing with great joy. We'll be announcing a new pope," he said. "Now is the time to step back and pray."

It's remarkable that while such important events covered by the world press are going on a few blocks away, on Sunday Collins and other cardinals were in Church, celebrating Mass and preaching to ordinary people, said St. Patrick's rector Fr. Tony Finn.

"The Church is first of all a family unit," Finn said.

Finn's family at St. Patrick's includes old Roman families, Irish immigrants and combinations of the two. Serving Mass for Cardinal Collins was Mr. Pignatelle, whose family reaches so far back in Rome's history that he can claim to be a prince of the Holy Roman Empire.

Noreen O'Connor Libotte married an Italian and moved to Rome with him in 1968, where the two made a living working in hotels. Libotte comes to St. Patrick's on Sunday because, "it's like you've really been to Church when you come to St. Patrick's."

It wasn't the first time Libotte has seen Collins at St. Patrick's since the Toronto cardinal took possession of the Church last year. But she was particularly happy to see that human face of the conclave at this time.

"So many have prayed for them," she said. "We need a new pope."

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