On Saturday, history was made when Wilton Gregory, 72, became the first Black American Cardinal in the Catholic Church. Gregory was among 13 other bishops that were promoted to cardinals at the Vatican during the weekend. The ceremony was Pope Francis’s seventh consistory.
The event also showed the pope’s mission to name cardinals from places that had never gotten one before or draw special attention to places whose services had immensely benefited the church. Countries like Brunei and Rwanda got their first-ever cardinals. This brings to 73 the total number of cardinals appointed by Pope Francis. A total number of 128 cardinals are responsible for electing the pope.
Gregory, who is the archbishop of Washington, said just before his elevation that the appointment was in recognition of the many contributions Black American Catholics have made to the Church.
Prior to the pandemic, the event would have been a ceremony of pomp and one filled with celebratory ambiance. However, the coronavirus pandemic reduced the fanfare around this ceremony and left the St. Peter’s Basilica virtually empty. Again, each cardinal was only allocated ten guests.
Protocols stipulated that everyone wore masks. As a precaution, all prospective cardinals were required to have traveled to Rome from their various stations and self-quarantine in the city for about ten days before the ceremony proper.
In his message, the pope advised the new cardinals never to think of themselves as more important than the people. He urged them not to dwell too much on their new title of “His Eminence.” Pope Francis particularly urged the new cardinals not to use their new positions for pecuniary gains, to advance their own agenda, or for corrupt purposes, Fox News reports.
Gregory has been an outspoken Catholic priest over the years. He gained a reputation as a priest who was not afraid to jump into current societal issues and make his opinions. He once said that one cannot be a Catholic and then sit on the fence on certain matters. He said to be of the catholic persuasion meant one had to proclaim their beliefs and faith passionately.
He was particularly outraged when President Donald Trump paid a visit to a Catholic Church facility after demonstrators were tear-gassed outside the White House. Gregory said he found it distasteful that a Catholic facility would allow itself to be used to manipulate the emotions of the citizenry.
Earlier in the week, Gregory had welcomed President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory and said he looked forward to working with Biden, who became just the second Catholic President in the White House (John F. Kennedy was the first). The new cardinal said he hoped for a smooth working relationship where both of them can cooperate in vital areas that reflected the social teachings of the church. He admitted that there are some areas they won’t agree on.