As he prepared to travel to Rome on Sunday, Toronto’s Thomas Cardinal Collins said he is “overwhelmed” by the thought of joining his fellow cardinals for the process of selecting a new pope.

Speaking with reporters just hours before he was due at the airport, Collins said he has been studying the thorough rules for conclave – the process of selecting a pope -- and what is expected of him as he enters the historic occasion.

“It is an astonishing experience, to be in a conclave -- I am overwhelmed to think of that,” he said. “But the Lord will guide us and I've been trying to do my best to reflect on what that will involve.”

It will be the first time Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, will cast a ballot for the next pope.

Collins was named a cardinal by Pope Benedict in 2012. There are 116 cardinals expected to descend on Rome in the coming days to select a new leader.

Leading up to conclave, Collins said he has been receiving emails from people offering “blessings for the journey” as the cardinals begin their task.

“It’s a great consolation to all of us to know the prayers of the people, of the whole church and many others around the world at this momentous time,” he said.

Collins said this week he has been praying for Pope Benedict, who drew a crowd of approximately 100,000 people to St. Peter’s Square on Sunday for one of his final public appearance as leader of the Catholic Church.

Acknowledging he is a newly anointed cardinal, Collins said he will be paying close attention to his peers before “casting in stone” the traits that he believes the next pontiff should possess in order to represent the roughly 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

“Obviously, we want a holy person, a person filled with the spirit of the Lord,” he said. “There are many, many possibilities there, but the question is: which one for now.”

Tthe Holy Spirit will ultimately guide the cardinals’ decision, Collins said.

Collins is arriving in Rome in time for the Pope’s final mass, to be held Wednesday.

Cardinals will meet with Pope Benedict on Thursday, the final day of his pontificate.

It is not exactly clear when conclave will begin.

According to the current rules, the earliest date possible is March 15 -- after a 15 to 20 day waiting period from when the papacy has become vacant has passed -- however, it is expected Benedict will move that date forward in order to have a new leader in place for Easter.