Wilton Gregory Becomes The First Black American Cardinal In Catholic Church’s History

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October 28, 2020

The tides are changing!

Wilton Gregory made history as the first Black-American appointed to Cardinal in the Catholic Church, The New York Times reports.

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Gregory is the Archbishop of Washington and among 13 new cardinals named this past weekend by Pope Francis. He has been a staunch advocate for improving race relations in the church ever since his time as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, emphasizing the importance of young Black Catholics seeing representation in their bishops. 

During a Mass this past August, commemorating the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, Archbishop Gregory spoke more about the church’s duty.

“Ours is the task and the privilege of advancing the goals that were so eloquently expressed 57 years ago by such distinguished voices on that day,” Gregory said. ”Men and women, young and old, people of every racial and ethnic background are needed in this effort. We are at a pivotal juncture in our country’s struggle for racial justice and national harmony.”

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The 72-year-old is a Chicago native who formerly served as archbishop of Atlanta before being appointed as the first Black-American archbishop of Washington. Archbishop Gregory previously served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the first American named to the College of Cardinals. He converted to Catholicism as a child after attending Catholic grammar school in Chicago and decided to pursue life as a priest in 1958.

Pope Francis has been instrumental in advocating for more inclusivity and greater acceptance, supporting the College of Cardinals’ diversification, centering the poor and migrants and speaking out about climate change. His appointment of Archbishop Gregory comes when the Catholic church is reckoning with their contribution to the legacy of slavery and racism. Archbishop Jose H. Gomes, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the “naming [of] Archbishop Wilton Gregory as a Cardinal [by] Pope Francis is sending a powerful message of hope and inclusion to the Church in the United States.” 

“With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment, which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church,” Archbishop Gregory said in a statement. 

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“For centuries, Black Catholics were excluded from seminaries and religious orders,” Shannen Dee Williams, assistant professor of history at Villanova University, said about the appointment to The Times. ”And when they were included, they were often given positions with little power and were not allowed to lead Black-American parishes. [Archbishop Gregory’s appointment is the] culmination of a longstanding Black Catholic freedom struggle against racism, slavery, segregation and exclusion within the U.S. church.”

Archbishop Gregory has been active in matters of immigration, climate change and support of the LGBTQ community. The ceremony for new cardinals will take place on Nov. 28th in Rome. 

Congratulations, Archbishop Gregory!

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Photo Courtesy of Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

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