DC’s Gregory, the 1st African-American cardinal-elect, on his role, racial inequality, election

Wilton Gregory
FILE — This Sunday, June 2, 2019, file photo shows D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory posed for a portrait following mass at St. Augustine Church in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

When Pope Francis named 13 new cardinals earlier this week, he included D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, whose appointment makes him the first African-American cardinal-elect.

The 72-year-old was ordained in his native Chicago in 1973 and took over leadership of Washington’s archdiocese last year after serving as archbishop of Atlanta since 2005.

The ceremony to elevate Gregory to cardinal is scheduled for Nov. 28.

Gregory spoke with WTOP on his new role, the 2020 election and what the historic new position means to him.

Archbishop Gregory: 'It's a positive gesture' (WTOP's Valerie Bonk)

What new role means for DC area 

Gregory told WTOP that from the outside, not much will change. He will still attend services and make himself available to congregations in the region.

The big difference is, “It puts me in a different and an important relationship with Pope Francis,” Gregory said, and that connection to the pope will help him to better serve.

But it doesn’t exactly come with a set plan. “You don’t get a list of a job description,” he said, laughing.

Number one on his own list, however, is being present. “You make yourself available to people, and you respond to the needs that arise,” Gregory said.

On being the first African-American cardinal 

He hopes that the historic role will help him to better connect Black Catholics in the U.S.

“It’s a positive gesture, I pray, to the people of our nation and in a particular way to Black Catholics,” Gregory said. “What I would like to be able to do is to encourage the people, people of color, to be more actively engaged in the life of the church here.”

He said the local protests and calls against injustice for Black Americans needs to be a call to local Catholics to step up.

“It’s not simply a matter of us saying, ‘Isn’t this a terrible thing,’ but the response also has to be, ‘and what can I do to help alleviate it? What can I do to be a sign and an instrument of peace and of justice?'” Gregory said.

Archbishop Gregory on racial injustice (WTOP's Valerie Bonk )

Urging DC to get out and vote

Gregory said voters in the area need to cast their ballots if they haven’t already.

“Take the responsibility of our citizenship and the freedom to engage in the electoral process seriously and vote,” Gregory said.

As the first African-American cardinal-elect, he added that he hopes to help engage the community when it comes to racial injustices and calls for equality for Black Americans.

“All of those things are issues that I think we as Catholics have to accept as important, and respond to out of love and with tenacity,” Gregory said.

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