Pope Francis appoints first African American cardinal

Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, DC, made headlines this year for criticising Donald Trump’s visit to a Catholic shrine.

Wilton Gregory receives his biretta as he is appointed cardinal by Pope Francis during a ceremony at St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican [Fabio Frustaci/Pool via Reuters]

Pope Francis has confirmed 13 new cardinals to the highest rank of the Catholic Church hierarchy, including the first African American to hold the position.

In a ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Saturday, which was scaled down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pope gave the 13 men their ring and traditional red hat, known as a biretta.

Wilton Gregory, who has served as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC since May 2019, became the first African American to be appointed to the College of Cardinals.

“With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church,” Gregory said in a statement last month.

He told The Associated Press news agency ahead of Saturday’s ceremony that he viewed his appointment as “an affirmation of Black Catholics in the United States, the heritage of faith and fidelity that we represent”.

An outspoken civil rights advocate, Gregory, 72, made headlines in June when he criticised US President Donald Trump for a planned visit to a shrine honouring former Pope John Paul II in the US capital.

That visit came a day after police used tear gas to disperse racial justice protesters, who were demonstrating after the killing of George Floyd, to allow Trump to walk from the White House to pose for photographs in front of a nearby church.

The contentious events came at the height of a US-wide movement to end police violence and discrimination against Black people.

In a statement on June 2, Gregory said it was “baffling and reprehensible” to see a Catholic facility “allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated” by Trump’s planned visit.

“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings … He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace,” Gregory said.

Pope Francis leads Saturday’s consistory ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican [Fabio Frustaci/Pool via Reuters]

With Saturday’s new cardinals, Pope Francis has named 73 of the 128 voting-age cardinals, compared to 39 for Pope Benedict XVI and 16 for St. John Paul II.

The ceremony, known as a consistory, is the seventh of Francis’s pontificate.

Nine of the 13 cardinals appointed on Saturday are under 80 and eligible under Church law to enter a secret conclave to choose the next pope from among themselves after Francis dies or resigns.

Those nine come from Italy, Malta, Rwanda, the United States, the Philippines, Chile, Brunei and Mexico. Brunei and Rwanda got their first-ever cardinals on Saturday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies