The Catholic Church has elected Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. to the rank of cardinal, making him the first African American in history to hold that title.
Gregory was elevated to a cardinal in an installation ceremony held in Rome over the weekend, reports CNN.
Gregory, 72, already the highest-ranking African-American Catholic in US history, told CNN this week that he has been praying, writing homilies and letters to well-wishers, and reflecting on his new role.
“It’s been a time to thank God for this unique moment in my life and in the life of the church in the United States,” Gregory said. “I hope it’s a sign to the African American community that the Catholic Church has a great reverence, respect and esteem for the people, for my people of color.”
As a Cardinal, Gregory will be one of the Pope’s closest advisers and one of only 120 or so men who will elect the next pontiff. Before Francis chose Gregory as Archbishop of Washington last year, he also served as a bishop in Belleville, Illinois, and in Atlanta.
Gregory, who was not born Catholic but converted to the religion while in school, said that he anticipates being a “voice for the African American community in the pope’s ear,” according to the Washington Post.
“It is also an important recognition that the African American, the Black Catholic community, is an important component within the larger, universal church,” Gregory added of the pope’s decision to elevate him to the rank of cardinal.
Pope Francis has emerged as a more woke pontiff than those before him, and this weekend also appointed bishops from Rwanda, Brunei, Chile and the Philippines as new cardinals. The pope has spoken out against the police killing of George Floyd, and just this week met with a delegation of NBA players to hear about their efforts to protest racial injustice in America.
The shift towards elevating historically marginalized peoples in the Catholic Church likely comes from a recognition of the cultural realities of a world in which it seeks to continue being seen as a leading religious institution. Of course, the Catholic Church’s claim to moral leadership has been dealt a blow in recent years due to overwhelming reports of incidents of sexual abuse in the church that were allegedly hushed up by the Vatican.