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Pope Francis names first Black cardinal of the United States

Wilton Gregory is one of 13 prelates to be appointed to the highest governing body of the Catholic Church.

Wilton Gregory Vatican News

Pope Francis appointed 13 new cardinals to the Catholic Church on Sunday (Oct. 25). Among the newly named cardinals is Washington D.C.’s archbishop, Wilton Gregory, who is set to make history as the first Black prelate in the United States to assume the high-ranking role.

“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 in a statement.

Gregory, a Chicago native, became a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973. In 1994, he joined the Diocese of Belleville in Illinois where he served as bishop for a decade. Amid his tenure, he was elected as the first Black president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and helped developed the “Charter of Protection of Children and Young People” — five principles for responding to sex assault crises involving Catholic clergy — as a response to internal sex abuse scandals in the early 2000s. Gregory then progressed as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and eventually moved to Washington D.C. where he was named the first African-American archbishop.

Gregory’s advancement to cardinal comes amid increased calls for racial justice throughout the nation, a topic he has not shied away from.

The cardinal-elect has pushed for leaders of the Catholic Church to aid in the fight against racial discrimination. During a service commemorating the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, he told the congregation that it was their duty to advance the goals expressed years ago at the D.C. rally.

In June, following George Floyd’s tragic death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, Gregory denounced the cops and the “sin of racism.”

“Many of us remember similar incidents in our history that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement where we repeatedly saw Black Americans viciously brutalized by police on television and in newspaper photos,” he said at the time. “The horror of George Floyd’s death, like all acts of racism, hurts all of us in the Body of Christ since we are each made in the image and likeness of God and deserve the dignity that comes with that existence.”

Gregory — who has also expressed his support for same-sex civil unions — will be installed alongside the other newly elevated prelates in a ceremony slated to take place on Nov. 28.

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