New leader has special appeal to a demographic that makes up 15% of the archdiocese.
The nation’s capital is more than 50% African American, and black Catholics there welcomed the first African American archbishop of Washington Tuesday.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was installed as leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, succeeding Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who stepped down last October. In the estimation of the Washington Post, African American parishioners are “watching his first steps with pride and excitement—and with hope that Gregory can address the needs of their community.”
Archbishop Gregory, who just finished a 14-year tenure as leader of the Atlanta Archdiocese, was the first black bishop of Belleville, Illinois, and is expected to be made the first African American cardinal in his new post, according to Religion News Service.
The Pew Research Center estimates that African Americans make up about 15% of the flock in the Archdiocese of Washington. The Post noted:
When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published a list of the nation’s historically black parishes, it included more in the Archdiocese of Washington than any other diocese in the country except Lafayette, La. The District’s four most recent mayors — Muriel E. Bowser, Vincent C. Gray, Adrian Fenty and Anthony Williams — are all African American Catholics or were educated in Catholic schools. Karl A. Racine, the District’s attorney general, fondly recalls his roots in the city’s predominantly African American parishes and boasts of the nuns and priests who are among his relatives.
In an interview with Relevant Radio, Archbishop Gregory said, “As I have said before, I am the son of the African American Catholic community that has been called to become the shepherd of this local church.”
The Post quoted Bishop Roy Campbell, auxiliary bishop of Washington, as saying that he has found that parishioners are hungering for African American leadership in the Catholic Church.
“It will be a definite change here in the Archdiocese of Washington,” Campbell said. “Hopefully … our black Catholics will see that they are as relevant as any other Catholics in the community. Sometimes you can feel that you might be not heard as much as others.”
Campbell said that as a black bishop himself, “you can understand the feelings of people who have experienced, whether it is subtle or overt, instances of racism, even when it’s not intentional, because I have experienced the same thing. I can understand where they’re coming from and help them in how to address that. . . . Here we have an archbishop that I think has experienced the same thing.”
What was on Archbishop Gregory’s mind on Tuesday, however, according to the homily he delivered to an estimated 3,000 people at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was healing and unity.
Alluding to recent scandals in the Church, including several that have been related to his new archdiocese, he said, “We stand at a defining moment for this local faith community. Our recent sorrow and shame do not define us; rather, they serve to chasten and strengthen us to face tomorrow with spirits undeterred.”