TORONTO — Archbishop Thomas Collins began his ministry as the 10th archbishop of Toronto in a flurry of activity that signaled a new evangelical openness and urgency in Canada’s largest English-speaking diocese.
Given that Toronto is also the media center of the country, the arrival of Archbishop Collins in Toronto also means a more robust Church presence in Canadian public life.
At an installation Mass attended by Canada's three cardinals, dozens of bishops and hundreds of priests, the archbishop used the image of the theater — St. Michael’s Cathedral is near Toronto’s theater district — in his first homily, praised by many of the senior priests present as the best preached at the cathedral in generations.
“Only a short distance from this cathedral there are many theaters,” Archbishop Collins began. “The performers and the audience spend a relatively brief time within them, and then at the end of the performance leave the world of illusion and go through the exit doors into the world in which they really live: Toronto. That primary, external world is the governing context for what takes place within the secondary world of the theater: For the performances on stage are an artificial construct, designed to reflect some aspect of the life that occurs in the real world outside.
“That primary world — of Toronto, of Ontario and Canada, and of this planet — which gives meaning to all that happens on a theatrical stage, is in turn itself dependent upon a greater reality, which is its governing context,” Archbishop Collins continued. “Eventually we all exit from this life, as we do from any theater, and we do so through the doorway marked death. What we find beyond that doorway is the real world, which is the essential reference point for our brief life on earth. John Henry Newman expressed this fact through his epitaph: It is at the end of our life that we move from shadows and illusion into the truth.”
The primacy of the reality of the supernatural animates Archbishop Collins’ pastoral approach, as summed up in his episcopal motto, taken from the Book of Revelation: Deum Adora (Worship God).
“Fruitful apostolic action can only arise out of contemplation,” he said, stressing in his homily Eucharistic adoration and a return to confession: “For each of us, the pathway to Jerusalem lies through the confessional.”
The theatrical image also spoke to the desire of the new archbishop for greater openness and evangelical outreach. In his first days in Toronto, he met with the editors of the city’s major newspapers, and made himself available for interviews beginning at 6:30 a.m. on the day of the installation itself (no reporter opted for the earliest slot!).
Local and national media were surprised with the new approach, a marked departure from the previous practice in Toronto.
The installation Mass itself was to be followed by regional Masses where Archbishop Collins will introduce himself to the archdiocese — five of them are scheduled across the 223 parishes of Toronto, concluding just before Lent.
Two days have also been set aside for meetings with priests. Among the priests present at the installation, there was a near-universal sense that a new, bolder era was beginning for Toronto.
A Scripture scholar by training (he has a Ph.D. in biblical theology), Archbishop Collins held his first public event two days before his installation Mass, inviting people for an evening of lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture) at a church on the University of Toronto campus.
While Archbishop of Edmonton from 1999-2006, Collins held Sunday evening vespers and lectio divina at his cathedral, leading the people in meditations upon the Scriptures. Particularly aimed at young people, the practice will likely be continued in Toronto — an echo of what Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, used to hold in his own cathedral.
Youth and Vocations
Archbishop Collins was known in Edmonton for his emphasis on youth and vocations — famously ending most of his parish visits by giving out his phone number from the pulpit and encouraging anyone considering the priesthood or religious life to give him a call. Many did, and many more got the message that vocations were a top priority.
Archbishop Collins succeeds Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, Toronto’s archbishop from 1990 to 2006. The retired cardinal, now visibly frail, attended the installation and promised his successor that he would “offer advice — only when asked!”
Father Raymond J. de Souza
served as the Register’s
Rome correspondent from 1999 to 2003.
He writes from Kingston, Ontario.