Cardinal Gregory looks back on his first year as a member of the College of Cardinals

WASHINGTON (CNS) – On November 28, 2020, when Pope Francis raised 13 new cardinals from around the world – including Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Washington – the pontiff reminded them of the importance of remaining “a close pastor to your people.

Returning from Rome, Cardinal Gregory has spent a busy year doing just that – celebrating Masses in parishes, visiting schools and supporting outreach programs in the Archdiocese of Washington, amid necessitated security protocols. by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exactly one year after being named a cardinal by Pope Francis, Cardinal Gregory once again presided over Mass – at Saint Matthew the Apostle Cathedral in downtown Washington on the first Sunday of Advent on November 28.

It was also the annual Mass of the Association of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, various Catholic groups that place particular emphasis on witnessing and sharing their faith.

After Mass, Cardinal Gregory, in an interview with the Archdiocese’s Catholic Standard newspaper and website, reflected on his first year as a cardinal and the recent issues facing Catholics.

“Time has gone by so quickly, and I have had so many times over the past year that I was especially grateful to have the opportunity to serve the church in this new position,” he said. declared. “It really didn’t change my ordinary daily routine. I’m still the Archbishop of Washington, there are still meetings to go to.

“There are still activities that bring me to the different parishes. It brings a lot of joy to my heart.

Two days before last year’s consistory, the future cardinal received a surprise invitation from Pope Francis, whom he was able to join for a Thanksgiving dinner that included pasta. Due to the pandemic, the consistory itself was on a much smaller scale than usual, with each new cardinal only joined by their priest secretary and only around 100 people in the congregation at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“It was the experience of being inside Saint Peter with the Holy Father,” Cardinal Gregory said when asked what he remembered most about the consistory.

“I had been to Saint Peter’s many different times for other ceremonies, notably being a priest of communion during a ceremony, a canonization that Pope Paul VI made while I was still a student in Rome” , he recalled.

“So I had been to Saint-Pierre several times, but the consistory was certainly a special event because it was not only a visit to Saint-Pierre, it was a meeting with the Peter of today. “

Over the past year he has felt “particularly close to Pope Francis, although I have not seen him since the consistory ceremony,” Cardinal Gregory said. “This closeness intensified when he went to Iraq for this visit (in March 2021), how proud I was of his testimony of faith and brotherhood. Then I was obviously worried about him when he underwent surgery last July (and worried about) his recovery. “

Last fall, Cardinal Gregory returned to Rome for the ordination of deacons at the North American College of St. Peter and to claim its titular church – the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the district of Grottarossa in north of Rome.

The visit “gave me an intense experience of being a priest of the diocese of Rome, because that is what these titular churches symbolize”, he declared. “I have a parish in Rome that unites me with these wonderful people, but in a special way to Pope Francis.”

With his elevation to the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Gregory also made history as the first African-American cardinal.

Reflecting on his feelings about it a year later, Cardinal Gregory said, “The African American community – through so many notes, cards, letters, emails and text messages – has been so supportive.

“They expressed both support and affection, but they also renewed in my heart the deep faith found within the African American community, a faith that has sometimes been tested, but remains strong and vibrant. . “

He had other firsts, he noted: the first African-American auxiliary bishop of Chicago, the first African-American bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, and the first African-American president of the Bishops’ Conference. Catholics of the United States. He was elected in 2001.

Under his leadership, the country’s bishops responded to the growing crisis of clergy sexual abuse by implementing the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth” in 2002.

“I always feel that if I stay close to the Lord in my prayer life, at least (staying) on ​​the right path, this will be the first opportunity to bring the church closer across cultures and races”, said the cardinal.

Asked about the declaration on the Eucharist approved by the American bishops at their general assembly Nov. 15-18 in Baltimore, Cardinal Gregory commented on the document’s “early coverage” – much of which indicated the bishops would call to refuse communion to the president. Joe Biden and other Catholic lawmakers who support legal abortion.

Such coverage “raised extraordinarily complex questions,” he noted. “I think the statement was about as appropriate as we could provide, given the climate we faced.”

The 26-page final statement does not address Catholic politicians and abortion; it explains the centrality of the Eucharist in the life and faith of the Church and addresses the fundamental doctrine on the sacrament.

The question of whether Catholic lawmakers who support abortion should be denied Communion “should never be a source of division for us,” Cardinal Gregory said.

“I know it’s become (that) for some people who have strong feelings one way or the other,” he added. “It is a sad statement when the Eucharist, which is to be the sacrament of unity, is used as an expression of division. “

Another initiative approved by the Bishops of Baltimore was a three-year National Eucharistic Awakening, beginning next June and culminating with a National Eucharistic Congress in 2024 in Indianapolis.

It will be “a first step in helping our people to regain awareness of the importance and centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church”, he declared. “I hope that Catholics all over the nation will stop and reflect on the great mystery of Christ present, body, soul and divinity in the Eucharist.

“If Catholics were confused or ignored this central mystery,” he continued, “I hope the conversation that preceded it and the publication of the document itself and the follow-up to events that will occur during the next two years will increase. our awareness of the great mystery that we have in the Eucharist.

Initiatives undertaken by the Archdiocese of Washington under the leadership of the cardinal include a “Laudato Si” action plan, inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment.

Launched in August, the plan includes practical ways in which Catholic parishes, schools and institutions, as well as individuals and families can take care of creation.

Regarding the biggest challenge he faced during the pandemic, the cardinal said that “not being able to be in touch” with the faithful as before COVID-19 – not being able to “embrace, support, encourage and sing along with” them .

He deplored “the distance that this pandemic has imposed on us all”.

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