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On being named a cardinal by Pope Francis

Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, was named as a cardinal by Pope Francis on Oct. 25, 2020, one of 13 new cardinals from around the world who will be elevated at a Nov. 28 Consistory. In the photo above, the cardinal-designate later that morning celebrated the 250th anniversary Mass at Holy Angels Church in Avenue, Maryland. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

(The following is the text of Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory's column for the Nov. 12, 2020 Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)

Over the past quarter century from the time that I began writing these columns for my diocesan paper, the themes for some of my columns have come rather easily and at other times with considerable effort. From about 6:30 a.m. on Sunday October 25, the theme for this particular column was already resolved. I learned of my appointment to the College of Cardinals that morning with a telephone call from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who heard the announcement earlier that day at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ Angelus prayer with the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. That has become the method the Holy Father uses to make these appointments known. I had no advance announcement of this matter. Although, in truth, since being appointed the archbishop of Washington, people have had their own conjectures. Pope Francis has departed from the tradition that certain dioceses would automatically receive a cardinalatial appointment. So all bets were off in that regard.

After speaking with Cardinal Farrell, I paused to think about what this would mean for the Archdiocese of Washington and for me personally as a member of the Holy Father’s close associates. I then went about my ordinary morning pattern, and I spent the first quiet moments of the day in the chapel. I had much to pray about to say the least. I am thankful to the Holy Father for this appointment, and I am deeply grateful to the members of the Archdiocese of Washington for their loving welcome and support and now for their generous words of encouragement upon learning of this nomination.

I have worked with cardinals before, in particular with Cardinal John Cody and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in Chicago. They were both very different personalities, however both were very kind and encouraging to me. Cardinal Cody ordained me a priest, and then he assigned me to doctoral studies in liturgy in Rome. During those Roman student years, he often expressed his interest in my work and in my well-being. The 10 years that I served as Cardinal Bernardin’s auxiliary bishop (1983-1993) were especially influential and vital in my life as a bishop. He was a man of incredible wisdom and pastoral insight. He never lost the common touch, but remained always close to the clergy, religious and the flock entrusted to his care. I hope to follow that good example. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a profound love for the Church. Here again, I pray that I can emulate his style and pattern of service.

People have asked what will this new responsibility mean for me. I honestly don’t know, since the Holy Father has yet to tell me anything specific other than appointing me to the College of Cardinals. I will make myself available for him at his discretion.

I regret that because of the pandemic, I will not be able to share this Roman moment with many of the people that I love dearly – my sisters, friends and colleagues from the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Diocese of Belleville, the Archdiocese of Atlanta and here from the Archdiocese of Washington. The travel difficulties, the health concerns and the local restrictions are not conducive to European travels. But I assure you that I will carry all of you deep within my heart during the time of the Consistory and during the Mass with the Holy Father. Once our local restrictions are modified and we can gather together safely, we can celebrate this event with prayer and gladness.