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Cardinal Thomas Collins’ unusual Vatican souvenirs


Did you know that every Cardinal in the world “has” a church in Rome?  The word “cardinal”comes from a latin word that means “hinge”.  This is a reference to the special role that Cardinals play in the Roman Catholic Church.  Every Cardinal, in fact, is a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome.  It is for this reason that they are the ones who elect the Pope, the Bishop of Rome (In the early years of the church bishops were elected by the people living in their dioceses).  Because they are all also bishops they all preside over local churches.  This is why Auxiliary Bishops are often given the name of some See (ecclesiastical area) which, for one reason or another, has been suppressed.  Glendalough is an example of such a place – Bishop Guy Sansaricq, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn is the current incumbent. Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh, Emly, and Ross are others that are attached to others Sees that still exist in Ireland.
As a sign of their being members of the clergy of Rome each Cardinal is assigned a church in the city of Rome.  Visitors will recognise these churches by the two shields that will be displayed on the façade – one of the Pope and the other which bears the coat of arms of the relevant Cardinal.
Cardinal Tom Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, was assigned the Church of St. Patrick which is on Via Boncompagni (close to the Via Veneto and the American Embassy).  This is the Irish National Church in Rome which has been in the care of the Irish Augustinians since it’s construction.
While the relationship between Cardinal Collins and St. Patrick’s is largely symbolic he has become a regular visitor to the community there and is very welcome.  Interestingly, the principal practical commitment that the Cardinal is supposed to have to the church which is “his” is to ensure that it has an adequate roof.
The following is an article referring to an interview with the Cardinal which is reported on the Clerical Whispers website:


As a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, Collins has spent a lifetime immersed in solemn ritual. But the conclave to elect a new pope four months ago was like nothing he ever experienced. Mention it today and his face is all wonder and excitement.  “A conclave is an awesome event,” he says. “It’s hard to describe. It’s just majestic.”

In the end, when the 115 cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who took the name Pope Francis, the historic moment escaped no one. 

A cardinal announced that colleagues could keep whatever was on their desks and most grabbed everything they could.

Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, came back with an assortment of souvenirs — his plastic name plate, a red desk pad, and a poster with pictures of the voting cardinals on one side and Michelangelo’s monumental Last Judgment on the other, a dramatic reminder of the consequences of choice.
There’s also an official Vatican pamphlet with the conclave voting rules, and a book with two weeks’ worth of daily prayers in case the cardinals got deadlocked and balloting dragged on. 

(It didn’t — Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected on the second day of voting.)

Collins also brought back a voting ballot, a piece of stiff paper the size of two business cards. On it is written, in Latin, “I elect as sovereign Pontiff,” and below that is a line where the name of the candidate is written.
The souvenir that makes Collins chuckle is the plastic pen the cardinals were given to vote with — a Pilot G2 that sells in Canada for $2.78.
“It’s a very simple blue plastic ballpoint pen with a bar code on it — that really got me,” Collins says. “In the midst of all these Michelangelo frescoes and everything is this little modern stuff.”

The conclave mementos will be stored in the archives of the Archdiocese of Toronto, which are mainly available to researchers. 

In case anyone doubts the authenticity of the plastic voting pen, Collins has placed with it a handwritten, signed note that gives the pen’s bar code number and adds, “This pen is one of the pens placed at each cardinal’s place in the Sistine Chapel in the conclave of March 2013 that elected Pope Francis and is the one I used in voting.”

Collins’ memories of those extraordinary days are a mix of heavy and light emotions. As the cardinals in procession entered the Sistine Chapel, he thought, “This is amazing, this is really happening.” Then the heavy doors slammed shut.
“It’s a very simple blue plastic ballpoint pen with a bar code on it — that really got me. In the midst of all these Michelangelo frescoes and everything is this little modern stuff.”
Cardinal Thomas Collins

“All the hustle and bustle fades away and it’s silence; the windows are closed, the TVs are disconnected, there are (cellphone) jamming devices around the place, you can’t communicate. So you simply eat, pray, think and vote,” Collins recalls.
“The real spirit of the thing was very prayerful and it’s just not the kind of horse race that you hear about,” he adds.

He found himself sitting in his allotted place, beneath The Creation of Man, Michelangelo’s iconic fresco showing God zapping Adam to life with His finger.

After the newly elected Pope Francis addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s Square, Collins found himself blocked by security barricades while trying to leave the site.

“I could have hopped over it,” he says, “but I knew that somewhere there would be a photographer taking a picture of me climbing over with my robes, so I thought, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ So I walked around.”

Since then, cardinals have been trying to get to know a new pope who — unlike his scholarly and austere predecessor, the retired Benedict VXI — immediately charmed the faithful with his common touch.
“He’s very down to earth and lives simply,” Collins says. “He’s very prayerful and he ad libs things, which we’re not used to.”

“You’ve got to be careful,” Collins adds. “When you’re not the Pope people don’t pay too much attention to every nuance of what you’re saying, so you just talk freely. But when you’re the Pope, every word he utters (people) say, ‘What’s the profound meaning in all this?’”

Pope Francis gives unscripted homilies every day at a mass celebrated in a Vatican chapel. 

The Vatican provides summaries of the sermons but has balked at making full transcripts available, noting they would require editing to nuance his spontaneous remarks.

Francis has set up a committee to study reforms of the unruly Vatican bureaucracy and has initiated changes to the scandal-plagued Vatican bank. Earlier this month, he announced that former popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be made saints. 

He also issued an encyclical, partly written by his predecessor, on the importance of Christian faith.

For Collins, the Pope’s biggest reform so far is in his personal style.

“He’s so very approachable and a people person — that always touches people’s hearts,” he says. “It’s a crucial thing.”



Article posted on 17th of July 2013

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