File Photo: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory outside the Cathedral of Matthew the Apostle, Washington, D.C. 

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

Nov 3 2020

Washington DC’s Archbishop speaks about how he heard about his appointment as a Cardinal and about the “wonderful legacy of faith” that has shaped him as a Catholic of African-American descent.

October 25 will forever be etched in Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s personal history as well as that of 13 other clerics, prelates and other local Churches.

It would have been just past 7 am in Washington, D.C., when the Holy Father announced his intention to elevate that city’s Archbishop to the College of Cardinals.

Cardinal-designate Gregory spoke with Vatican News about how he heard the news, what his first thoughts were, how he hopes to represent his fellow African-Americans and how the various places in which he has lived and work have shaped his pastoral ministry.

Life-changing telephone call

Archbishop Gregory told us it was one of his close friends who first broke the news to him that Pope Francis had chosen him to be a cardinal.

“About five minutes after the Angelus concluded, I got a telephone call from Cardinal Kevin Farrell who said, ‘I want to be the first to congratulate you on being named to the College of Cardinals’.”

The Archbishop continued saying he had no prior knowledge of Pope Francis’s decision. On hearing the news, the first thought that went through his head was:

“I thought that God is good and how grateful I was to the Holy Father for this appointment and how I look forward to working closely with him in his ministry to the universal Church.”

Bearer of the African-American legacy

With this appointment, Archbishop Gregory will become the first Cardinal in the Church in the United States of African-American descent. He hopes his appointment is received, not only by his fellow African-Americans but also by all U.S. Catholics, as a “sign of the love and the respect that the Church universal has for us in our culture, our language, our traditions.”

Specifically, regarding his fellow African-Americans, his hope is that they see in his appointment a call for them to “be more deeply invested in their local parishes and their local dioceses.”

Legacy of faith a “proven treasure”

The Cardinal-elect describes the “wonderful legacy of faith” to which he belongs as one that “stretches back from the earliest days of our arrival on these shores – in chains,” but also a legacy containing “some bright and wonderful examples of faith and holiness in the lives of a number of people whose causes for canonization are already at the Holy See.”

Archbishop Gregory mentioned three of these people in particular: Pierre Toussaint, a slave who, after gaining his freedom in New York, performed numerous works of charity for those less fortunate than he; Father Augustus Tolton, a former slave and convert to Catholicism who, after his ordination, served in the Chicago area as well; Sr Thea Bowman, whom Archbishop describes as a “wonderful, wonderful, woman religious, whose presence and enthusiasm and whose vibrancy still resonate throughout the Church in the United States.”

“We’ve produced holy, generous, zealous Catholics from our cultural and racial tradition. And I hope they get more attention in many respects than I do because their contribution to the life of the church is already a proven treasure.”