Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto walks in St. Peter's Basilica after receiving his red hat from Pope Benedict during a consistory at the Vatican Feb. 18.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto walks in St. Peter's Basilica after receiving his red hat from Pope Benedict during a consistory at the Vatican Feb. 18.

February 27, 2012
JIM O'LEARY
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

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 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.

The former archbishop of Edmonton 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.

Cardinal Thomas Collins concelebrates Mass with Pope Benedict in St. Peter's Basilica Feb. 19.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Cardinal Thomas Collins concelebrates Mass with Pope Benedict in St. Peter's Basilica Feb. 19.

"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 11:22 a.m. in a packed St. Peter's Basilica when the pope placed a scarlet biretta on his head.

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.

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.

Among the Canadian contingent were 14 members of the Collins family, led by Collins' sisters Patricia and Catherine, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal, and more than a dozen government dignitaries.

In the tight, 90-minute service, the 84-year-old pope 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 Pope 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."