Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 14, 2000
Local faithful flock to hear new shepherd
By GLEN ARGAN
He's only been archbishop of Edmonton for eight months. But in that time, Archbishop Thomas Collins has become perhaps the most sought-after speaker in town.
It's evident not only in the large number of invitations to speak which he receives, but also in the large and enthusiastic crowds which greet him every place he goes.
Take the recent Feb. 4-6 weekend. He spoke Friday morning to the O'Leary "family of schools" in Edmonton, did an afternoon interview with French CBC Radio, and began a retreat for men at Providence Renewal Centre.
Saturday morning, he finished the retreat before dashing off to give a presentation at a session for men discerning whether to enter the seminary.
On Sunday, he celebrated morning Mass at Paroisse Ste-Anne and led solemn Vespers and lectio divina for more than 600 people at St. Joseph's Basilica.
His calendar is packed with speaking engagements. And he now has major assignments with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, chairing its theology commission and sitting as a member of its permanent council.
But it's Collins' ability, honed through 20 years of seminary teaching, to explain the basics of Christian living in clear and lucid terms that has most captured the local faithful.
"He speaks with authenticity and with a lot of passion," effused Matt Hertz, a retired school superintendent who was one of nearly 200 men who attended the retreat at Providence Renewal Centre.
The archbishop is a man of humility and simplicity, Hertz continued. "Yet, he's a well of deep water."
Peter Ingle decided to attend the retreat on the basis of hearing Collins talk at St. Thomas More Parish in September about the life of the parish's patron saint.
"I thought, 'Here is a man I want to hear more of,'" Ingle told the WCR.
Indeed, several who attended the men's retreat were back with the archbishop Sunday evening at the basilica.
Collins' message at the retreat was simple, but he spoke with humour and clarity.
"The only three questions are the basic ones asked by Immigration: Who are you? Where are you going? Where do you come from?" he said.
He urged the men to make the quest for holiness a constant part of their lives.
Holiness is not a once-in-a-lifetime decision; it's like a computer - billions of little yes or no, off or on decisions, he said. "It's more a matter of stumbling into the arms of the Lord, with a few dramatic moments . . . perhaps."
During the Saturday morning of the retreat, Collins several times repeated the opening lines of the Didache, a second-century book of Christian instruction: "There are two ways, the way to death and the way to life, and there is a great difference between them."
Glenda Carline, program coordinator at Providence Renewal Centre, said the centre has long wanted to hold a men's retreat, partly because of the small number of men who attend most retreats.
When centre staff began planning the retreat, they didn't know whether to plan for 30, 50 or 70 men, she said. "In our wildest dreams, we thought we might get 100. This totally surpassed our expectations."
Although several factors combined to produce the large turnout, Carline said, "The archbishop is a big draw."
The centre hopes to hold similar retreats in the future and Collins said, "I look forward to doing it again."
The archbishop's explanation for the large turnout? "A lot of people want to spend time in prayer and in reflecting on their Christian faith."
That's true, but they seem to want to do it with him.
At St. Andrew's Parish, Collins gave three evening talks on the book of Revelation in the fall packing the 500-seat church for each of them. The response was so strong that the parish has invited him back for another three-week series beginning Feb. 29 and it expects the building to be filled again.
And at the basilica, a large crowd filled the nave of the church for the second monthly gathering for lectio divina which Collins will make a centrepiece of his episcopacy by holding it almost every month.
"He is a teacher and he makes things so simple that people can follow," said Sister Annata Brockman, pastoral associate at the basilica, noting that people came from as far as Red Deer for the 80-minute event.
"People heard him, they liked what they heard and they will come again." said Brockman. "I have no doubt that this will become bigger and bigger."