Thomas Collins, 66, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Toronto who was appointed a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI only last year, jetted off to Rome Sunday to vote for the abdicated Benedict’s successor.
Before leaving, he spoke to The Globe and Mail about entering the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on Friday with 117 brother cardinals to begin the conclave that will elect a new leader of the world’s more than one billion Catholics. His personal search, he said, is primarily for a spiritual teacher who will be a pope for the needs of the church throughout the world. And he thinks taking part in the vote is awesome.
Q: Will it make a difference if Candidate X is elected over Candidate Y?
A: Fundamentally, I suppose you could say no, in the sense that the role of the Pope is essentially to teach but also to be the rock, to be the successor of St. Peter [in Catholic tradition, the first pope or bishop of Rome whom Jesus said would be the rock on which his church would be built]. The key thing is the teaching – that it be clear, that it be faithful, that it be like the rock. And so in that sense, the style is perhaps not so significant. Just recently we’ve had John Paul II who was more of an extrovert pope and Pope Benedict more an introvert. So the styles change, the personalities change. And the personality has an effect on the fruitfulness of the ministry. But the fundamental thing is that it be [someone] faithful to the Lord, living a good Christian life and faithful in his ministry as a successor of Peter.
Q: How are you personally preparing for the conclave?
A: Well, I’m personally preparing by praying a lot. I’m also trying to get more up to date on the backgrounds of some of the cardinals who might possibly be pope. The due diligence required of a cardinal is to know the other cardinals.
Q: You must be formulating questions in your own mind about what the church needs.
A: I’m certainly trying to think what do we need at this time in the church’s history. There’s a process involved in this. Part of the process is listening to all the cardinals both formally, in what they call these general congregations, and also informally, just sitting around talking or meeting one another, discussing what the church needs.
I’m not trying to prejudge the matter. This is a time to think a lot, sketch out some thoughts. Every individual cardinal is only from one tiny piece of the church. And so I think the opportunity when the whole college [of cardinals] gets together, is to listen to people, to hear of their needs. The pope is the pope for the whole universal church. So I want to listen and try to get a sense of the whole picture.
Q: Is there any sense that a consensus starts to take place before voting cardinals actually go into the Sistine Chapel?
A: I don’t know whether it does. What I’m aware of – I have spoken to a few people, of course they can’t talk about what actually happened to them in the conclave.
Q: Not even to a brother cardinal?
A: No. But what they have said – kind of obviously, without breaking any pontifical secret – is that you find people praying like mad. There’s no nominations for pope. There’s just simply a vote. And from my understanding, apparently on the first vote a whole bunch of cardinals get one or two votes but there are a few who might get 20 or 30 or so. And those are, in fact, the papabili, the famous list you read about in the papers. When you get to the first vote, there they are.
Q: You sound like you’re excited about it.
A: Oh, it’s an awesome experience. To think that here’s a little kid from Guelph going to take part in a conclave.