By Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp
A small group of parishioners of Santa Maria Immacolata a Grottarossa parish in Rome was on hand on Monday to welcome Cardinal Wilton Gregory as he took possession of his titular church.
The pastor, Father Valerio Bortolotti, described this area to the North of the center of Rome as the place where legend has it that the Roman emperor Constantine dreamt that the “the Lord was inviting him to place himself under His protection with the sign of the cross.”
The construction of the Church itself, the pastor continued, was due to the “inspiration” of a wealthy landowner named Ettore Malinario. He built the Church and dedicated it to the Immaculate Conception for all the people who worked on his land.
“A cross and a mother: this is the treasure that you are taking possession of today,” Father Bortolotti said to Cardinal Gregory during the ceremony.
After the recitation of Midday Prayer, the Cardinal greeted those gathered in Italian.
He continued, saying he is “deeply grateful” to have been assigned as Cardinal priest of this Church by Pope Francis.
“I am particularly thankful because the Immaculate Conception is also the Patroness of the Church in the United States of America. Whenever I recall Our Lady’s title, I will be united with you and your families and clergy in prayer.”
He concluded his greeting asking those present to remember him and his home Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. in their prayers:
'I feel closer to the Pope'
Cardinal Gregory has returned to Rome, just two months shy of last year's consistory in which he became a Cardinal. In an interview with Vatican News, the Cardinal shared his feelings regarding how his taking possession of his titular Church in Rome is a concrete expression that his ministry as a pastor and shepherd now embraces both the local and the universal Church.
“I feel closer to the Holy Father this morning. As I was walking down the aisle, and I looked around and saw the people gathered here at this delightful parish, I said, ‘These are the people the Holy Father has asked me to love and care for and to serve’. I won't be here often because obviously my full-time job, my first responsibility is the Archdiocese of Washington. But there won't be a moment in a day, I hope and pray, that I don't get up and say: ‘And to that lovely little community in Grottarossa – I'm in prayer with you. Keep me in prayer, please’.”
'People want to be close to their bishop'
When asked how he has incarnated the Pope’s recent request that U.S. bishops deal with issues, such as abortion, as “pastors with God’s style that is close, compassionate and tender”, Cardinal Gregory said:
“I have been fortunate enough to have served first of all, in my home diocese of the Archdiocese of Chicago – as a priest and auxiliary bishop – then in the Diocese of Belleville in Southern Illinois, then the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and now in Washington. And I have discovered in every one of those situations that people want to be close to the Church, they want to be close to the Lord, they want to be close to their Bishop – if we will give them a chance. If we will give them a chance, they will draw near to us. And that enriches our lives, and hopefully theirs as well”.