By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
On Sunday, Oct. 25, as many committed Catholics and worshippers woke up for Sunday services, news broke that Pope Francis elevated Washington, D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory and 12 others worldwide, to cardinal. Gregory will become the first African American elevated to cardinal at a ceremony on Nov. 28, and while the barrier breaking news was still setting in the Archdiocese of Washington sent the AFRO a press release where the Archbishop humbly shared his excitement for his new role and journey.
“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,” Gregory said.
Archbishop Gregory has been committed to doing work for ‘Christ’s Church’ for almost five decades. Forty-seven years ago, Gregory was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago where he served for ten years. In 1983, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago and then, 11 years later, he was installed as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, where he served in 2005. In 2005, he became archbishop of Atlanta and was appointed to his current position in 2019.
Having been ordained at the age of 25, and now 72, Gregory is not new to his commitment to the Church, he’s certainly true to this. Despite his almost 50 years of service to the Church, what excites people such as native Washingtonian, McKinley Rush, is that Gregory actually is a converted Catholic.
“He’s a convert Catholic, and that’s what I really admire about him, is that he wasn’t born into Catholicism. He learned Catholicism, and what makes me proud is, I wasn’t born into Catholicism. So I say he must really be committed,” Rush, who is a devout Catholic, told the AFRO.
Like Gregory, Rush went to Catholic school and developed a strong work ethic and laid the foundation for his faith in God.
“He worked hard up in Chicago, and then he got his degree and moved on to Rome to study, and then he came back- and can you imagine some of the issues as a Black priest in Illinois? And then he went to Atlanta… He stayed down there for about 11 years and he had done so much, the few Catholic people that I know down there, just ranted and raved about him, so I had been following him,” Rush explained. “For him to be able to come here and run the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception- that is the Basilica of the United States- that’s where he’s in charge.”
According to Rush, who is active at Nativity Catholic Church in D.C., Archbishop Gregory is a man of the people.
“To show you he doesn’t look at anybody big or small. We had a fish fry one night at Nativity and it was raining… but Archbishop Gregory showed up. We’re not a big church, or make a lot of money church- nothing… and he showed up, and got a fish sandwich,” Rush explained to the AFRO.
“He’s quiet,” he continued. “He said he’s able to go to the grocery store where he lives because people don’t recognize him- well that’s out now,” Rush added with a chuckle.
Rush acknowledges the major history and power in Gregory’s elevation as an African American cardinal, “because he’s the first one,” but also explained he is moved by the Archbishop’s kindness and dedication to his work.
“Whatever he can do to help a human being, he is going to do it.”