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Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory ‘with very grateful and humble heart’ appointed cardinal by Pope Francis

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington was one of 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis Oct. 25. He is pictured at Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Chaptico, Md., in this May 31, 2020, file photo. (CNS photo/Andrew Biraj, Catholic Standard)

WASHINGTON — Cardinal-designate Wilton D. Gregory, installed as Washington’ s archbishop in May 2019, thanked Pope Francis “with a very grateful and humble heart” for naming him as one of 13 new cardinals Oct . 25.

“This appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s church,” he said in a statement issued shortly after the pope announced new cardinals at the end of his Angelus address.

Cardinal-designate Gregory will be the first African American cardinal from the United States to be elevated to the College of Cardinals. He and the other 12 prelates will to be elevated at a Nov. 28 consistory at the Vatican.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington and other U.S. bishops from the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and the Military Archdiocese concelebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 2, 2019. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials.

Nine of the new cardinals are under age 80 and will be eligible to vote in a conclave; four elderly churchmen will receive red hats as a sign of esteem and honor.

In addition to Cardinal-designate Gregory, the pope chose as cardinal electors two officials of the Roman Curia and bishops from Italy, Rwanda, the Philippines, Chile and Brunei.

A native of Chicago, Cardinal-designate Gregory turns 73 Dec. 7. As a sixth grader attending St. Carthage School in Chicago in 1958, he was inspired by the example of the parish priests and Adrian Dominican sisters there to become Catholic.

At the news conference when he was introduced as Washington’s new archbishop, he said, “Within six weeks of being in Catholic school and not being from a Catholic background, I said, ‘I want to be a priest.'”

Wilton Daniel Gregory was baptized as a Catholic during the Easter Vigil that school year.

Later after studying as a seminarian he was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973, and earned a doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome in 1980.

After serving as a parish priest in Chicago and as a master of ceremonies to Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983.

In 1994, Bishop Gregory was installed as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, where he served for the next 11 years. Bishop Gregory was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001 after serving as three years as the vice president.

During his service as USCCB president from 2001 to 2004, the church’s clergy sex abuse crisis escalated, and under his leadership, the bishops implemented the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

St. John Paul II appointed Bishop Gregory to serve as the archbishop of Atlanta, where he was installed in 2005 and served until Pope Francis named his as the new archbishop of Washington in 2019.

At the news conference where he was introduced as Washington’s new archbishop, Archbishop Gregory promised to work for healing in the archdiocese, which had been shaken by the clergy abuse crisis, including the resignation and removal from the priesthood of Theodore McCarrick, former Washington archbishop and cardinal, following charges that McCarrick had abused minors and engaged in sexual misconduct with adults.

“I am arriving with a commitment to transparency,” then-Archbishop Gregory said. “The only way I can serve this archdiocese is by telling the truth. I will always tell the truth.”

At his installation Mass as Washington’s new archbishop, Archbishop Gregory pointed to the Gospel story of Jesus calming the stormy seas when he was in the boat with his apostles.

“I remind you … he is here. He is here when the seas are calm, and he is here during every moment of uncertainty, anger, fear and shame. He invites us to place our trust in him,” Archbishop Gregory said.

Archbishop Gregory emphasized that same message in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic initially caused a shutdown of public Masses and the closure of Catholic school campuses.

In a column for the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, Archbishop Gregory wrote that “even in the uncertainty of this current situation, if we are open, God will use this moment to bring our hearts closer to him and more firmly in union with one another.”

Following the nationwide racial protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest, Archbishop Gregory said in a statement that “this incident reveals the virus of racism among us once again even as we continue to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.”

Archbishop Gregory has praised peaceful protests for racial justice, saying the young people helping lead those marches offer hope for building a more just nation where all lives are respected.

On the morning Pope Francis named him as a new cardinal, Archbishop Gregory was scheduled to celebrate a 250th anniversary Mass for Holy Angels Parish in Avenue, Maryland, which is located near St. Clement’s Island in Southern Maryland. The first Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies was celebrated at St. Clement’s Island in 1634.

Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, offered congratulations from the conference where Archbishop Gregory serves on the board of governors.

“Today’s appointment of Cardinal-elect Gregory to the College of Cardinals is a great honor for him, for the people he serves, and for all of us here in Maryland. Cardinal-elect Gregory is a pastor at heart whose gentle ministry is guided by his deep love for Christ. The universal Church will gain from his wisdom, kindness and faith as he takes on this new responsibility as a special advisor to the Holy Father and a papal elector.

“As our state and nation continues to grapple with racial tension, the appointment of the first African-American Cardinal in history also has special significance,” she said. “Throughout his ministry, Cardinal-elect Gregory has sought to address wrongs and bridge differences. Earlier this month, he participated in a virtual town hall on police reform in Maryland and in June, he and the other bishops of Maryland released a letter on racial justice.

“We offer him our prayers and support.”