First African American Cardinal in Catholic History Appointed

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Patrick Arsenault, Contributor

In Rome on November 28, Pope Francis named thirteen new cardinals from around the world. History was made that day when Cardinal Wilton D.Gregory, the archbishop of Washington D.C., became the first African-American cardinal in Catholic history. In the Catholic church, a cardinal is a leading bishop for a certain area which, once the Pope appoints, holds the position for life. 

Higher ranking members of the Catholic church have commented on the event, showing praise for Pope Francis’s new cardinal elevations.

Father Robert Boxie III, a Catholic chaplain at Howard University, calls it a, “long time coming,” and that Cardinal Gregory’s elevation, “puts the stamp of approval on the ministry, the service,…all of his accomplishments and his contributions individually.”

Boston’s Cardinal, Seán O’Malley, also congratulated Archbishop Gregory on his elevation saying, “The Holy Father’s choice, of course, is not simply about history. It is a recognition of the personal qualities and fruitful pastoral ministry of Cardinal-elect Gregory. Ordained as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Chicago, then Bishop of Belleville, Illinois, Cardinal-elect Gregory later led the Archdiocese of Atlanta for more than fourteen years, before being appointed to the See of Washington, D.C. in 2019.”

Cardinal O’Malley also mentions the long struggle for racial justice throughout American history and is glad the powerful call of the American people this past year has been acknowledged by the Pope himself, who is also a very large voice for justice, human dignity, and equality throughout the world which has been a trademark throughout his papacy.

Once elevated to cardinal, Gregory told CNN that he has been praying, writing homilies and letters, and reflecting on his new role as cardinal. Gregory, grateful for his new role also hopes, “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.”

Now that Gregory is a cardinal, he will become one of the pope’s closest advisers and will continue to pay attention to the racial dynamics of the United States.

In addition to elevating Archbishop Gregory to cardinal, Pope Francis also made sure to show concern for Catholics who, in the past, have been historically marginalized by elevating cardinals from Rwanda, Brunei, Chile, and the Philippines as well.