Pope installs first African American cardinal

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American new Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory leaves after he was appointed by Pope Francis, during a consistory ceremony where 13 bishops were elevated to a cardinal’s rank in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (Fabio Frustaci/POOL via AP)

By AFRO Staff

Pope Francis elevated 13 new cardinals to the preeminent circle of the Catholic Church Nov. 28, including the first African-American to hold the rank.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, D.C., made history as he received his biretta (red hat) and ring denoting his loftier status during the consistory – ceremony – at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 28.

In a statement to The Associated Press before his installation he said he viewed his promotion as “an affirmation of Black Catholics in the United States, the heritage of faith and fidelity that we represent.”

Gregory’s appointment and those of several others seem to reflect the diversity and inclusiveness Pope Francis has tried to foster within the denomination. That runs through in his approach to social issues as well – in a recent documentary, he seemed to endorse the idea of civil unions for same-sex couples and, like Gregory, he supported the civil rights protests that erupted after the death of George Floyd – another Black man – at the hands of police.

“There is awareness now of the need for racial reconciliation, an awareness that I have not seen at this level and at this intensity before,” Gregory said.

During the consistory, the pope also expanded on another thrust of his papacy, warning the new cardinals about staying true to their spiritual path and not letting their elevated status lead to corruption.

“The scarlet of a Cardinal’s robes, which is the colour of blood, can, for a worldly spirit, become the colour of a secular ‘eminence,’” he said during his remarks, according to Vatican News

If a cardinal exploits his rank, he “will no longer be the pastor close to the people,” the pope warned. “You will feel that you are only ’eminence.’”

Gregory, 72, was ordained a priest in 1973. The Chicago native served as the bishop of his hometown, Belleville and Atlanta before his appointment to the Washington, D.C. diocese in 2019. He was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from 2001 to 2004.