By Karen Jordan and Alexis McAdams, ABC7 News
Pope Francis on Sunday named 13 new cardinals, including Washington D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, a Chicago native who would become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat.
In a surprise announcement from his studio window to faithful standing below in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said the churchmen would be elevated to a cardinal’s rank in a ceremony on Nov. 28.
Gregory, 72, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago on May 9, 1973.
Gregory was picked by Francis to lead the prestigious diocese in the U.S. capital last year. He served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.
“By naming Archbishop Wilton Gregory as a Cardinal, Pope Francis is sending a powerful message of hope and inclusion to the Church in the United States,” Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said. Gomez is also the current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “As a former president of our national bishops’ conference, Archbishop Gregory displayed generous and principled leadership. The naming of the first African American cardinal from the United States gives us an opportunity to pause and offer thanks for the many gifts African American Catholics have given the Church. Please join me in praying for the continued ministry of Archbishop Gregory.”
Other priests congratulated him during Sunday mass at Holy Angels Catholic Church in Avenue, Maryland.
“We are grateful to Pope Francis for his appointment today of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory as Cardinal of the Catholic Church,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago. “While we take particular pride in this recognition of a dedicated priest, whom we are proud to claim as our own we are also moved that Pope Francis chose this compassionate, thoughtful pastor when our nation and the world are in desperate need of healing and courageous leadership.”
Gregory came to the Catholic faith as a student in a Chicago archdiocese grammar school and went on to become a strong leader in addressing some of the most pressing issues facing the church and society, Cupich said. In his years as president of the United States Conference of Bishops and beyond, he has been at the forefront of moving the church to repair the damage of child sexual abuse and confronting racism in all its forms, he added.
“America needs to celebrate the love of creation in each other in different groups and different cultural experiences, and I think my brother represents that joy and celebration of not just the African American experience, but all ethnic experiences all cultural experiences in this country,” said Gregory’s sister Elaine Gregory Swenson.
Gregory, whose parents were Baptist, converted as a child to Catholicism.
His elevation to cardinal is seen as groundbreaking and shines a long-overdue spotlight on African American Catholics.
“The fact that we now have an African American cardinal is a tremendous blessing,” said Father Jerry Boland, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“I think that’s what his ministry has been a celebration of humanity and difference,” Gregory’s sister added.
Gregory’s first assignment was at the Glenview church.
This article originally appeared on ABC7 News.