In line with the pope’s concerns about Catholics who have been historically marginalized, other recent cardinals include men from Rwanda, Brunei, Chile and the Philippines.
Gregory, 72, who is now the highest-ranking African-American Catholic in US history, told CNN this week that he had prayed, written sermons and letters to well-wishers and was considering a new role.
“It was time to thank God for this unique moment in my life and in the life of the church in the United States,”
As a cardinal, Gregory will be one of the pope’s closest advisers and one of about 120 men who will elect the next pontiff. Before Francis elected Gregory Archbishop of Washington last year, he also served as bishop of Belleville, Illinois, and Atlanta. He was born in Chicago to parents who were not Catholics but converted to Catholicism while attending a parish school.
The symbolism of Gregory’s selection
Raising Gregory to the highest rank of the Catholic Church, Francis continues to pay close attention to racial dynamics in the United States.
Francis condemned the “tragic death” of George Floyd, the black man killed by Minnesota police last May, and backed an American bishop who knelt in prayer during a Black Lives protest.
“You will never find people protesting the death of George Floyd or joining a demonstration because there are stupid cities where children have no water or education, or because there are whole families who have lost their incomes,” Francis said. in a book called Let’s Dream.
“They would never protest on such issues,” the Pope continued. “They are unable to move beyond their own little world of interests.”
Anthea Butler, a religious scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, said Francis’ upbringing in Argentina, where he had lived for most of his life, opened a window to racial attitudes in America.
“He is very aware of racial injustices and white supremacy,” Butler said, “and it’s not just realizing what’s going on here and how things have escalated. You can’t live in Latin America and not see the history of race and slavery. . ”
Butler, an African-American, said she would be in Rome for Gregory’s installation, if not for the pandemic.
“It’s huge for African-American Catholics,” she said. “We have been waiting for a cardinal for a long time, and this is a recognition of the sacrifices made by people of African descent in the Catholic Church.”
Gregory: “We did not see the greatest pain”
The Catholic Church did not tell the bishops in advance that they would be promoted to cardinal, so Gregory heard the news from a friend on October 25, the day the pope made the message from Rome.
And while a cause for celebration, Gregory’s rise comes just weeks after the Vatican released a damned report on why it ignored allegations of sexual harassment and serial abuse by former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
“It’s not about church structures, it’s about the mistakes, the horribly bad judgments that the church has made by not focusing on the people who have been harmed,” Gregory told CNN this week.
“We were so determined to take care of the clergy, the priests or the bishops that we did not see that the greatest pain that had to be endured was suffered by the people who were injured.”
While in Rome, Gregory said he had not seen or spoken to Pope Francis, who lives in the vacant guest house where the future cardinal is staying.
But on Saturday, Gregory’s quarantine will end. And the long wait for a black American cardinal will finally be over.