The First African American Cardinal Makes Catholic History
Archbishop of Washington D.C., Wilton Gregory, made history in the Catholic scene by becoming the first African American Cardinal, leading Archbishops and Bishops. On Nov. 28, Pope Francis raised 13 new Cardinals to the highest rank in the Catholic hierarchy, Gregory being among the group.
Gregory’s appointment occurs nearly after a year of racial protests, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, in the United States sparked by the latest murder of an African American man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer.
Following protocol, the Catholic Church does not notify Bishops in advance that they will be promoted to Cardinal, however one of Gregory’s close friends gave him a heads up about the news prior to the Pope’s announcement from Rome that same day.
Being promoted to Cardinal brings on new duties. Gregory will be one of the Pope’s closest consultants in addition to being one out of about 120 men who will later elect the next pontiff. A pontiff is another word for Pope.
Prior to being promoted, Gregory previously served as a Bishop in Belleville, IL, and in Atlanta. He was not born into a Catholic household, but converted to Catholicism as he attended a parochial school.
“...an affirmation of Black Catholics in the United States, the heritage of faith and fidelity that we represent,” Gregory said in reference to his appointment.
During the ceremony, many of the Cardinals removed their face masks when they approached Francis, the Pope, who was also maskless to receive their red hats to complete their transition. However, Gregory kept his facial protective wear on being mindful of the pandemic as he received three negative Covid-19 tests and self quarantined at the Vatican alongside the other Cardinals.
If Gregory’s name rings a bell, it might’ve been during this summer as Black Lives Matter protesters marched through Washington D.C., and were violently restrained so President Trump could pose in front of St. John’s Episocal Church, Bible in hand. The very next day, Gregory called President Trump's actions baffling and reprehensible.
The newly introduced Cardinal stated that he hopes to be a “voice for the African American community in the Pope’s ear.”