America’s first black cardinal speaks of racism

America’s first black cardinal, Wilton Gregory, made history last year when he became the first Black American to be appointed a cardinal in the Catholic Church.

On the way, he says he faced plenty of discrimination due to his skin colour.

“I don’t know of any African American who hasn’t tasted the bitter cup of discrimination,” the 73-year old says.

“Now as long as I am formally dressed, I’m treated with great respect and affection. But if I take off my clerics to go out, to go shopping or run an errand, I’m in the pool of every other African American man in Washington.”

One time Gregorywas treated poorly occurred 15 or so years ago.

“I was being hosted at a very exquisite Palm Springs golf club. So I was there, dressed to play golf, and another individual … said, ‘You can put my clubs on the golf cart.’

“And I had to say, ‘Well, I can have somebody retrieve your clubs, but I’m here to play golf.’ I never forgot that.”

While many Catholics may be surprised America had to wait until 2020 for its first black cardinal, Gregory understands the reason.

“When a moment occurs like this, the reaction of a lot of people is, ‘Why did it take so long?’

“Well, it took so long because we’re still grappling with racism and with exclusion. That’s still a part of the world in which we live.”

Gregory says ongoing racial unrest is “a reminder that in spite of all that we’ve been able to accomplish, the issue is still there.”

It is a “sobering” fact he says.

Dialogue is one of the best solutions to this societal tension, he says.

“We have to listen to each other.

“Dialogue demands both motions. You have to say what’s in your heart, but then you have to say, ‘Now, what’s in your heart?’ with the real intent of hearing what another says.”

As a boy from a Catholic school on the Southside of Chicago, Gregory says he never expected to stand in front of the pope.

“The priests and the sisters in that parish were just extraordinary human beings, and I was just mesmerized by them. And so I decided after about six, seven weeks, that I was going to be a priest,” he says of his Catholic education.

Nor did Gregory expect to have the US President (Joe Biden, the country’s second Catholic president) as one of his parishioners.

While Gregory doesn’t expect he’ll always agree with the president, he has a plan for how to handle it.

“… there will be moments when I will be able to speak to him about faith, about the works that he is trying to accomplish that we can be supportive of, but also areas where we’re not going to agree.

“But I’m going to always try to do it in a respectful way.”




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