By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
In an interview with Vatican News shortly after knowing of his appointment by Pope Francis to the College of Cardinals, the future Cardinal spoke about how he has been shaped by a “wonderful legacy of faith”. And rather than drawing attention to himself as the first African-American Cardinal, he pointed to his ethnic forebears who are up for canonization. In that interview, Cardinal-elect Gregory said “We've produced holy, generous, zealous Catholics from our cultural and racial tradition. And I hope they get more attention in many respects than I do because their contribution to the life of the church is already a proven treasure.”
What he foresees will change
What was then still a possibility has now become a reality. Archbishop Wilton Gregory is now Cardinal Wilton Gregory. In a consistory that lasted just under an hour, attended by roughly 100 members of the faithful in St. Peter’s Basilica, he joined the ranks of 229 other men who are among the Pope’s closest advisors, 128 of whom have the capacity to elect a future Pope.
Cardinal Gregory told Vatican News that his being a Cardinal will not affect his ministry as Archbishop of Washington, DC. His daily life will still be filled with meetings, and visiting parishes, he said.
“While I will be a member of the College of Cardinals, when I'm in Washington and engaged in my pastoral service, I will be the Archbishop of Washington.”
True to form, he instead hopes that what will change is the intensity of “the affection and the devotion of the people of the Archdiocese of Washington for Pope Francis and his Petrine Ministry.”
Called to put God’s precious people first
In response to the report released on his predecessor, former Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Gregory wrote that every priest on their ordination "promised our heavenly Father that they would always put his precious people first".
When questioned about this vision of a priest, the Cardinal said he used this expression as a reminder to “the people, my priests, and most importantly myself.” Cardinal Gregory specified further that he did not have priests in general on his mind in writing those words. “I was writing about the priest that is Wilton Gregory as well”.
“My relationship to the flock entrusted to me has to be the first responsibility that I have as a priest, as an ordained minister, and protecting them, and caring for them, and strengthening them.”
Inspired by those who help him fulfill his ministry
When asked to whom he turns for inspiration in carrying out his ministry, Cardinal Gregory’s response was surprising. After mentioning his spiritual director, he then began to list all of the people who collaborate with him in carrying out his ministry: his brother priests and bishops, deacons, women religious and lay ministers.
Of his fellow clergy, he said he has been “very inspired by the level of devotion and the genuine goodness and zeal…. I have found them to be men of great integrity and great dedication to the mission of the Church.”
Even during the unforeseen and unprecedented period in which Covid restrictions has posed limitations in ministry, the Cardinal said “the priests, and the deacons, and the religious of the Archdiocese who share with me the pastoral care of our people – they've inspired me with their creativity. They've tried things, they've engaged their people.”
Inspired by creativity
Some of them have acknowledged that this period has proved “trying”, Cardinal Gregory continued. In the absence of prior experience under similar conditions and without a “playbook”, nevertheless, he said that “the priests and deacons, the women religious, the lay ministers, the folks at the Pastoral Center have been very creative in trying to fulfill their responsibilities to that local church as best they can under the circumstances that we' re all living with.”
The care with which the Cardinal kept enumerating each category of persons who surround him in his ministry was obvious. In a follow-up question regarding whether these people are his heroes, he responded:
“That's exactly accurate. They are the folks that animate me, that give me the ‘push’ to get up in the morning and to go about my work with great enthusiasm and zeal and hope.”