Archbishop Wilton Gregory is preparing to be the first African-American cardinal in Catholic history


On Saturday afternoon, if all goes according to plan, Gregory will leave his quarters and go down in history. During an installation ceremony scheduled for 4 p.m. in Rome, Gregory will be the first African-American cardinal in Catholic history.
Gregory is one of 13 men – and the only American – to be raised to Cardinals College at Saturday’s ceremony. Due to the coronavirus epidemic, two bishops are not in Rome, another according to Vatican News in the history of the church.

In line with the pope’s concern for historically marginalized Catholics, the others will soon include men from Rwanda, Brunei, Chile and the Philippines, among others.

Gregory, 72, who is already the highest-ranking African American Catholic in U.S. history, told CNN this week that he prayed, wrote homilies and letters to benefactors, and reflected on his new role.

“It was time to thank God for this unique moment in my life and in the life of the United States Church,” Gregory said. “I hope this is a sign to the African American community that the Catholic Church carries people, my colorful people, with great respect, reverence, and esteem.”

As cardinal, Gergely will be one of the pope’s closest advisers, and only about 120 men will elect the next pope. Before electing Francis Gregory as archbishop of Washington last year, he also served as bishop in Belleville, Illanta, and Atlanta. He was born in Chicago to parents who were not Catholics but converted to the Catholic faith while attending ward school.

Symbolism of Gregory’s election

When elevating Gregory to the highest rank in the Catholic Church, Francis continues to pay close attention to racial dynamics in the United States.

He passed several archbishops who had traditionally become cardinals to promote Gergely. He also placed Augustine Tolton one step closer to the sacrament, who died in 1897 after becoming the first African-American priest.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, from the left, greeted the parishioners after his second Mass on June 2, 2019, at St. Augustine's Church in Washington.

Francis condemned the “tragic death” of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minnesota last May, and supported an American bishop who knelt in prayer during the Black Life Material demonstration.

Earlier this week, the pope met with NBA players in the Vatican and encouraged them to continue the fight for racial justice and economic equality. (One player described Francis as “super cold.”)
Pope Francis condemns the death of George Floyd,
In a book-long interview published Monday, Francis once again addressed Floyd’s death and despised Americans who are protesting against mask-wearing orders aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“You’ll never find people like that protesting against George Floyd’s death or joining a demonstration because there are shoddy cities where children have no water or education, or because whole families have lost their income,” Francis said in the book. Called “Let’s Dream”.

“They would never protest in such matters,” the pope continued. “They are incapable of stepping out of their own little interests.”

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory addresses a Mass to repent of the sexual harassment of priests and to pray for the victims of molestation in 2017 in Indianapolis.

Anthea Butler, a religious scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, said Francis ’upbringing in Argentina, where he lived most of his life, gave way to a racial attitude in America.

“He is very aware of racial injustices and white superiority,” Butler said. “It doesn’t just notice what’s going on here and how things have escalated. You can’t live in Latin America and you can’t see the history of race and slavery.”

Butler, who is African American, said Gregory’s installation would have been in Rome if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.

“It’s huge for African American Catholics,” he said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for a cardinal, and that recognizes the sacrifices made by people of African descent in the Catholic Church.”

Gregory: “We haven’t seen the biggest pain”

The Catholic Church does not tell the bishops in advance to be promoted to cardinal, so Gregory heard the news from a friend on October 25, the day the pope announced from Rome.

And while it’s celebrating, Gregory’s rise comes just a few weeks after the Vatican released a condemnatory report on why it had ignored allegations of sexual abuse and serial behavior by former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.

Disturbing truths in the new Vatican scandal report

“It’s not about the structure of the church, it’s about the mistakes, the terribly bad judgments the church made when it didn’t focus on the people who were harmed,” Gregory told CNN this week.

“We were so intent on caring for the cleric, priests, or bishops that we didn’t see that the greatest pain that could be endured was endured by injured people.”

While in Rome, Gregory said he had not seen or spoken to Pope Francis, who lives in the Vatican guest house where the soon-to-be cardinal was staying.

But on Saturday, Gregory’s quarantine ends. And the long wait of the black Americans for the cardinal is finally coming to an end.