The Pope has named Toronto Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins as one of 22 new cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican announced Friday morning.

Collins, 64, ordained as a priest in 1973 and appointed archbishop of Toronto in 2007, told CBC's Heather Hiscox he learned about his appointment after receiving word on his BlackBerry to call the Pope's representative.

'It's just an awesome experience to receive that call from the Lord.'—Toronto Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins

"This is indeed a great honour and I’m indeed overwhelmed," Collins said early Friday, adding that he will continue as archbishop of the Toronto archdiocese.

Cardinals are the Pope's closest aides, but only those under age 80 can take part in the election of a new pope following the death of the current pontiff, Benedict.

Other cardinals named Friday include prelates from New York, Hong Kong, Berlin, Prague, Florence, Italy and some key Vatican offices.

Collins, who was born in Guelph, Ont., becomes the 16th Canadian cardinal in the history of the church.

Only two other Canadian cardinals are alive — Marc Ouellet of Quebec City and Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal, CBC freelance journalist Sabina Castelfranco reported from Rome.

After becoming Toronto archbishop, Collins spent some time studying in Rome, obtaining a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He noted that he has met the Pope numerous times, including in 2006 when he was archbishop of Edmonton.

Collins will take on his new role at a time when the relevance of the church in North America is being questioned, and following a wave of sexual abuse scandals involving clergy.

He tackled the issue in an address to Catholics, in 2010: "Our first concern should be for those innocent young people who have been abused to help them overcome their suffering … and to make sure … that this doesn't happen again.

"It's a deep wound that cannot be put aside ..." he said then.

Richard Alway, the president of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies at the University of Toronto, said Collins has already tackled the issue not only here but in Ireland, where he was sent by the Pope to report on abuse by clergy there.

Alway called Collins a good communicator, and said he should put that skill to use in his new role.

"The more he can be exposed to the people, and the more he can take his message to the people … the more effective he'll be," Alway said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his congratulations to Collins.

In a statment, he called Collins' appointment "a testament to his hard work and faithful devotion to the Church and spiritual life." 

Role of cardinal to serve 'whole church'

Although his role as a cardinal would include helping choose a new pope, Collins said he will also be assigned to different departments, committees and commissions relating to the "whole church," so will be making frequent trips to Rome.

"The role of cardinal is one of service for the wider church — that of course is a great honour and responsibility," he said. "I love being a priest, I love being a bishop — it’s just an awesome experience to receive that call from the Lord."

Benedict, elected in a secret conclave in 2005, has named more than half of the so-called cardinal electors who will choose a new leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics.

The ceremony, or consistory, to install the 22 new cardinals will be held on Feb. 18 at the Vatican. It will be Benedict's fourth consistory since his election six years ago.

Following the consistory, there will be 214 cardinals, including 125 under age 80.