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Future cardinal chats with Grade 3 class over Skype

Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins speaks on the phone to Canadian students in Ontario on Feb. 15, 2012, about his upcoming elevation to the College of Cardinals Saturday by Pope Benedict.

Liana Miuccio for The Globe and Mail/liana miuccio The Globe and Mail

Canada's next cardinal is using Skype to reach out to some of his youngest fans.

Archbishop Thomas Collins, head of the Archdiocese of Toronto, took time to connect with junior members of his flock Wednesday, just days before his formal elevation to the rank of cardinal.

He dialled into a Toronto-area classroom by video chat and phone, an event that left many of the youngsters star-struck.

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"It was exciting a little bit because we were talking to him, it was face-to-face," said eight-year-old Yulieth Argueta, a student at Holy Cross Catholic School in Mississauga, Ont.

"I was really nervous," Yulieth said, adding she and her classmates sweated over what outfits and hairstyles to sport for the occasion.

Archbishop Collins' appointment to one of the highest ranks in the Catholic Church is being celebrated in religious and secular circles alike.

A delegation led by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will travel to the Vatican for Saturday's ceremony to formally elevate Archbishop Collins and 21 others.

Back home, a series of special masses will be held in the Toronto area at the end of the month and early in March.

"This is an opportunity for us to bring a celebration that's happening in a lot of people's minds far away into our own community," said Bill Steinburg of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Wednesday's long-distance chat aimed to share the honour and excitement with the next generation of Catholics, he said.

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The 15-minute conversation saw the Mississauga students vying for a chance to ask Archbishop Collins about his childhood, his hobbies and his goals.

Their enthusiasm held up even after technological problems shut down the video connection and forced the Grade 3 class to huddle around a cellphone in speaker mode.

"I learned that he liked to read Bibles – I never knew that – and he liked to draw and colour and read science books," said Chinara Bartley, 8, who asked the archbishop what he was like as a boy.

The excitement proved too much for another girl, who burst into tears when it appeared she wouldn't get a turn at the phone.

The archbishop also spoke to students at his alma mater, Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School in Guelph, Ont.

Archbishop Collins, 64, will become the 16th Canadian cardinal in the church's history.

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Cardinals are the Pope's top advisers, the elite group of churchmen who will eventually elect his successor.

Of the 22 new appointees, 18 are under the age of 80 – raising to 125 the number of cardinals eligible to vote in the next papal conclave.

Cardinals aged 80 and over are not allowed to vote on the next pope.

The Canadian Press

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