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El arzobispo de Washington en la Iglesia de San Agustín, en junio de 2019. Photo: AP
The Archbishop of Washington at St. Augustine's Church in June 2019 Photo: AP

Pope Francis Makes History by Naming America's First Black Cardinal

The Archbishop of Washington D.C., Wilton Gregory, will accept the position in a ceremony to be held at the Vatican on Nov. 28.

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As every Sunday, Pope Francis went to the window of the papal office to address the prayer of the Angelus to his faithful. But this time, he closed it with a surprise announcement: the appointment of 13 new cardinals.

Although the number 13 does not enjoy a good reputation — it has been providential for American Catholics — one of the new nominees is the former Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, who will become the first Black cardinal in the United States. He will be recognized at a ceremony held on Nov. 28 at the Vatican.

"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 the care of Christ's Church," Gregory said in a statement.

Gregory (72) has been a pioneer in the many positions he has held in the Church, as well as a proud African-American who has always tried to inspire the Black faithful to follow the path of faith. 

His designation in 2001 as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was a good example of this, making him the first African-American to hold the position and making important contributions such as the "Letter for the Protection of Children and Young People " in the context of a growing tension over the abuse scandals in the Church. 

Gregory saw his election at the time as "an expression of the Catholic Church's love for people of color" and was not afraid to confront highly controversial issues such as sexual abuse. 

"You can't be Catholic and sit on the sidelines," he once told young Catholic adults. "Being a member of the Church means you have to go in and get your hands dirty in the mix of all the sand of faith from what we believe and profess to how we live and treat each other."

Wilton Gregory was also very clear in denouncing police abuse following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

"Many of us remember similar incidents in our history that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement, where we saw African Americans repeatedly beaten and raped by police on television and in newspaper photos," he said after Floyd's death.

"The horror of George Floyd's death, like all acts of racism, hurts all of us in the Body of Christ because each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, and deserves the dignity that comes with that existence."

Likewise, Gregory criticized the way the police attacked the protesters and the use of tear gas to disperse them during Trump's visit to a Washington D.C. church. 

"I find it disconcerting and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so atrociously misused and manipulated in a way that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we disagree," the archbishop said on a visit to the National Shrine of St. John Paul II:

"Pope John Paul II would not approve the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, disperse or intimidate them for a photographic opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace."

Wilton Gregory was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973 and a decade later was named Archbishop of Atlanta.

In 2019, Gregory was appointed Archbishop of Washington following the resignation of Donald Wuerl, who was accused of covering up sexual abuse during his tenure as Bishop of Pittsburgh.

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