Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory makes history as first Black American cardinal

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory made history Saturday, becoming the first Black American to earn the rank of cardinal.

Pope Francis bestowed the rank on the 72-year-old Gregory along with 10 other new cardinals at St. Peter’s Basilica, in a ceremony marked by face masks and chairs 6 feet apart, The Washington Post reported.

Gregory kept his face mask on when he kneeled for Francis to put on his red hat; most of the others took theirs off. The pope kept with his practice of not wearing a mask.

After the ceremony, Gregory talked about the significance — and timing — of his appointment.

“Among the people that have congratulated me and wished me well, friends and colleagues, I’ve heard this: It’s about time,” he said during a video conference. “But it is also an important recognition that the African American, the Black Catholic community, is an important component within the larger, universal church.”

Gregory spoke of being a “voice for the African American community in the Pope’s ear.” His new rank gives him a higher profile and more influence — at a time when racial tensions are high in the US, particularly over police killings of Black men.

Of the Church’s 229 cardinals, Francis has appointed 73 who are under 80. A good number of Francis’ appointees are from South America and Africa, recognition that the Church’s power base has shifted from Europe.

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