The city's new top Catholic is a treasure, a teacher and we should be thrilled to have him
To understand how blessed we are to have Thomas Collins coming to this city as the new Archbishop of Toronto, all you have to do is look west to Edmonton.
I have never heard of so many people, especially young people, who are so sad to be losing their bishop to Toronto. That's quite a statement in this day and age in the church -- and for that matter in any organization. Archbishop Collins spoke to the mind, but even more so, to the hearts of many people. He knows how to walk humbly, and listen compassionately, yet he is no ecclesiastical wallflower. He is a teacher at heart and a man of the church in the best sense of the word.
Archbishop Collins learned how to teach and reach people not only in the pews in church, nor in a formal classroom or lecture settings (even though he did a great job at that!)
Legend are the teaching moments that took place in Tim Hortons' doughnut shops in Edmonton, meeting young people and spending time in conversation with them. They listened to Archbishop Collins in Alberta. And they will listen to him in Toronto. God knows how much we need good teachers in the church today.
On Dec. 16, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Collins, Archbishop of Edmonton, to succeed Cardinal Aloysius Amb rozic as Archbishop of Toronto. The new Archbishop just turned 60 years old in mid-January -- a relatively young age to be named to head the largest diocese in Canada.
His appointment to Toronto has been hailed as an emblematic appointment by Benedict XVI. Why should Toronto be thrilled and grateful to be getting a bishop like Thomas Collins? The first and most fundamental quality any bishop must have is personal holiness. We Catholics understand holiness as not being "otherworldly," pie-in-the-sky spirituality, but rather a description of someone who walks humbly among us, reflecting in one's life love of God, personal integrity, humility, decency, honesty, intelligence, kindness, uprightness and sincerity.
TAUGHT IN LONDON
We are getting a bishop who is very familiar with those qualities from his teaching days in London to his shepherding days in Alberta.
The second quality necessary to be a good bishop is the ability to teach, which is his primary obligation. When a bishop is steeped in the word of God and knows well the lives of the saints and blesseds, he can offer to the world some authentic messages and real heroes. As I've already mentioned, from the doughnut shops to the pews, this man is a great teacher.
As Archbishop of Edmonton, Collins presided over a Church of nearly 350,000 Roman Catholics within a metropolitan area of one million people. He moved freely among his people, knowing so many by name. He even gave out his phone number to people from the pulpit, inviting them to contact him directly. And many did.
I'm not sure if he'll be doing that from the many pulpits of the Toronto Archdiocese. But one thing is certain: Toronto lucked out in getting a pastor who will walk and live among the people. Deciding to live in the St. Michael's Cathedral rectory in the middle of downtown is quite a statement to make about what kind of shepherding this pastor will do!
Archbishop Collins exercised great leadership over World Youth Day 2002, having served as one of the four Canadian Bishops who oversaw the entire event. It was a unique privilege to work directly for him during that four-year adventure. Working with him revealed brains and a heart coming together with passion and conviction. Yet more than the mega-event itself in July 2002, Thomas Collins returned to Edmonton and lit the place on fire with the World Youth Day spirit over the past five years.
He encouraged youth ministry in the church, living very much by that wonderful saying: "Build it and they will come ..." And the young people came in large numbers to be with their shepherd. They heard his voice, and recognized its authenticity.
Not many people can bring the book of Revelation alive as Collins has done in his monthly "Lectio Divina" prayer sessions in the cathedral in Edmonton. He's an expert in the Book of Revelation! It's thrilling to know he will continue those sessions in Toronto -- in fact, the first one will be this evening in St. Basil's Church (corner of Bay and St. Joseph Sts.) -- All are welcome!
As Archbishop of Toronto, Collins will now preside over the largest Catholic diocese in Canada, with a population of 1.63 million Catholics in 227 parishes and missions, served by three auxiliary bishops, 833 diocesan and religious priests, 111 permanent deacons, 715 religious Brothers and Sisters, and 61 pastoral workers. The challenges are daunting.
Collins will succeed very well in Toronto because he has never lost the common touch, and has not forgotten that real authority is born of humility and is ultimately exercised by charm and selfless service, for the building up of the church and society. We need a bishop like this who is not afraid to be visible in the world of faith, culture, politics and media ... someone who is convincing because he himself is convinced.
What do we desire in a new bishop and shepherd? A preacher who can convert souls; a prudent administrator and disciplinarian, shrewd in finances and not governed by human respect; honest; experienced as a parish priest -- not symbolic, but a real, lifelong pastor; highly intelligent and learned in theology and scripture; familiar with secular culture and able to address it in its terms, and effective with -- and not intimidated by -- the media.
To Archbishop Collins: Welcome to Toronto, you breath of fresh, crisp, Western Canadian air! "Toronto the good" will be "Toronto the better" because you said 'yes' to Benedict's invitation to come to this great metropolis.
And to the rest of us who are watching and waiting, let us work together to make his burden light, and to be open to the many lessons this new shepherd will teach us.