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Wilton Gregory, the first black American cardinal about to make history

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, First Black in Position Image: Reuters

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory is about to make history: on Saturday (28), he will become the first black American cardinal. Until then, he chained the interviews like a Hollywood star.

The 72-year-old prelate, who is currently quarantined in Rome, does not seem nervous on the eve of the grand ceremony, while speaking on video conference about the “important choice” that Pope Francis made in showing “his support for the African American community”.

“I am just a person, but at the moment, I am a symbolic individual,” the Chicago man told AFP with a big smile.

He recalls, however, that Father Augustus Tolton, born in Missouri to slave parents in the 19th century and the first African American priest (ordained in Rome because he was rejected by his country’s seminaries), could be beatified.

In June, Washington’s first black archbishop did not hesitate to criticize the president of the United States’ attempt to “intimidate” the crowd through religion. Donald Trump had just posed with a Bible in his hands in front of a church near the White House, the day after the brutal dispersion of anti-racist protesters.

The prelate is also known for defending “zero tolerance” against sexual abuse in the clergy, especially when he was president of the United States Conference of Bishops in the early 2000s.

In this context of scandals affecting the Church, the Holy See has just released a devastating report on the influential ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, ex-Archbishop of Washington expelled from the priesthood in 2019, after being convicted of sexual abuse of minors and adults.

“A sad report, but an important one for the future”, with a view to reviewing the selection process for bishops, says Wilton Gregory.

Formerly called “princes of the Church” on Saturday, there will be 13 new cardinals chosen by Pope Francis.

Reflection of the “diversity of the Church”

In almost eight years of pontificate, the 83-year-old Argentine pope selected the majority of “cardinal voters” (who will choose his successor) from among the prelates, often according to his ideas and under the age of 80.

“The Holy Father has endeavored to include different races, languages ​​and cultures in the cardinal school”, congratulates Bishop Gregory.

“He appointed cardinals in countries they never had. Clearly he wants a college of cardinals that reflects the great diversity of the Church,” he added.

As established, the new cardinals will kneel in front of the pope on Saturday to receive his cap and cardinal ring at the sumptuous St. Peter’s Basilica.

Due to coronavirus, the audience will be reduced at the ceremony. The pandemic also prevented two Asian prelates from making the trip.

Monsignor Gregory traveled to Rome with an assistant, without family or friends, “just happy to participate with Pope Francis in a consistory that will be unusual”.

The future cardinal also has the image of a moderate man and of dialogue, in an American Catholic Church very divided between progressive and ultra-conservative, often hostile to the pope.

“This must change. The divisions that appear so harshly in public waiting do not correspond to our vocation in the Church,” concluded the archbishop.

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