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Pope Francis appoints first Black American cardinal

Pope appoints first Black American cardinal
Washington archbishop becomes first Black American cardinal 00:41

Pope Francis on Sunday named the archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, a cardinal, making him the first African American to hold the position in the Catholic church's highest governing body.

The advancement of Archbishop Gregory comes after calls for racial justice have increased, shifting the focus and conversation about race in the U.S.

"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, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement.

Archbishop Gregory has pushed for Church leaders to improve race relations and has emphasized how important it was for young Black Catholics to see a bishop who looked like them.

"Ours is the task and the privilege of advancing the goals that were so eloquently expressed 57 years ago by such distinguished voices on that day," Gregory said during a Mass commemorating the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington in August. He added that "men and women, young and old, people of every racial and ethnic background are needed in this effort."

Amid protests concerning police brutality and racial injustice after the death of George Floyd, Gregory was among a group of Catholic leaders who criticized President Trump for staging a picture in front of St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House this summer.

"I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree," Gregory said in a statement.

The newly elected cardinal has been a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community in the Church, an advocate for immigration reform, and a commissioner of a climate action plan for Catholics at Church and at home to protect the environment. 

Nine of the 13 men named as new cardinals on Sunday, including Gregory, are under the age of 80 and are eligible to participate in the next convocation to elect Francis' successor. The new cardinals chosen by Francis echo his ideas, making it probable that the college will elect someone like him.

The ceremony to induct the new cardinals is set for November 28 in Rome. Given concerns over COVID-19 and new restrictions arising in Italy, the Vatican did not provide any details about the ceremony in which the pope physically puts red hats onto the heads of the new cardinals. It's also unclear whether some of the bishops will be able make the trip due to travel restrictions in many parts of the country.

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