With a thunderous applause of approval from the faithful and following a centuries-old liturgy full of symbolism, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was installed May 21 as the seventh archbishop of Washington during a nearly two-hour Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“I arrive at this almost indescribably humbling moment in my life and ministry filled with deep gratitude, immeasurable joy and unwavering confidence that the Risen Lord who has guided my every voyage will remain beside me as I begin my service to the people of God in the Archdiocese of Washington,” Archbishop Gregory said.

Calling himself “a fellow believer, a friend, and a pastor” and “a man filled with the faith, hope and joy of knowing Jesus Christ,” Washington’s new archbishop pledged that he would be “a welcoming shepherd who laughs with you whenever we can, who cries with you whenever we must, and who honestly confesses his faults and failings before you when I commit them, not when they are revealed.”

About 3,000 people packed the National Shrine for the installation Mass where Archbishop Gregory promised to “accept the pastoral care of the people of God in the Archdiocese of Washington… (and) serve faithfully the spiritual needs of this local Church.”

Archbishop Gregory was named by Pope Francis on April 4 to replace Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as the archbishop of Washington from 2006 t0 2018 and is now archbishop emeritus.

Archbishop Gregory, 71, is the former archbishop of Atlanta and a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is the first African American to be named to head the Washington Archdiocese.

Archbishop  Gregory shows the papal mandate in which Pope Francis named the former archbishop of
Atlanta as the new archbishop of Washington. (Archdiocese of Washington photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Attending the Mass were local, state and federal government officials, representatives of archdiocesan agencies and organizations, fraternal organization representatives, representatives from women’s and men’s religious communities, young adult and ethnic community representatives, and a group of more than 100 clergy, laity and others from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, which Archbishop Gregory led for 14 years before being appointed to Washington.

The new archbishop of Washington previously served as bishop of Belleville, Illinois, for 11 years, beginning in 1994. He was named auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983. Both dioceses also sent representatives to the installation.

He said that his previous appointments “helped me to discover that, tended gently with loving care, the seeds of the Church, like the seeds of the earth, grow heartily and strong in a variety of settings – urban, rural and small town.”

In his homily – which was interrupted five times by applause and cheers – Archbishop Gregory noted that Pope Francis has called all believers “to leave our comfortable confines and to encounter and welcome the poor, the marginalized, and the neglected, and to place them at the very heart of Christ’s Church.”

“Beginning today, that is my task here in the Archdiocese of Washington,” he said. “I thank the Holy Father for that righteous challenge – more an opportunity – and I pledge my loyalty, respect, and fraternal affection to him once again.”

Speaking of the revelations of the past year regarding the clergy abuse crisis that have caused much consternation and pain within the Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Gregory acknowledged that, “we begin a journey together on undeniably choppy seas.”

“We have been tossed about by an unusually turbulent moment in our own faith journeys recently and for far too long,” he said. “Waves of unsettling revelations have caused even the heartiest among us to grow fearful and perhaps even, at times, to want to panic.”

Referring to the Mass’s Gospel reading from Mark in which the disciples were frightened when raging winds and waves rocked the boat in which they and Jesus sailed, Archbishop Gregory likened today’s faithful distressed by the sex abuse scandal to those disciples.

“I know in my heart – and I believe that you know in your hearts as well – that Jesus is in the boat with us during tempestuous times,” he said.

“I confess that I don’t possess the words to put every soul at ease, to assuage every fear, to lessen every pain. But I do remind you – even as I sometimes have to remind myself – that He is here. He is here when the seas are calm, and He is here during every moment of uncertainty, anger, fear, and shame,” Archbishop Gregory said.

Calling on the faithful to “place our trust in Him – not in trite and easy answers or programs – but in Him and Him alone,” the archbishop said that Jesus will “bring us back safely to shore and even be bolstered by the trials that we have endured.”

He said that the archdiocese faces “a defining moment,” but “our hearts filled with hope and eagerness.”

“The storied history of this great Archdiocese is a gift to the Church in the United States. Our recent sorrow and shame do not define us; rather, they serve to chasten and strengthen us to face tomorrow with spirits undeterred,” Archbishop Gregory said.

Prior to the Mass, the ringing of bells and the singing of the faithful marked the arrival of Washington’s new archbishop. For nearly one-half hour before the Mass, prelates processed to the shrine’s altar to participate in the installation.

About 100 deacons and 300 priests led the procession that included 50 bishops and archbishops and eight cardinals. Also participating in the procession were the Knights of Peter Claver, the Knights of St. John, the Order of Malta and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.  

As Archbishop Gregory processed into the shrine for his installation, applause greeted him in waves as he made his way to the altar.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, then read Pope Francis’s proclamation appointing Archbishop Gregory as the archbishop of Washington.

Pope Francis – in the proclamation naming Archbishop Gregory to Washington – hailed the archbishop as a “venerable brother” who has “achieved so much in the exercise of your pastoral responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.” 

The pope urged Archbishop Gregory to “carry this flock (of the faithful in this archdiocese) in the same loving manner that a man carries his child.”

The mandate was greeted with a round of applause.

Pope Francis, in his mandate, also urged the faithful of the Archdiocese of Washington to welcome Archbishop Gregory as “a father to be loved, a teacher to be heeded and guardian of souls to be supported.”

Accepting his new position Archbishop Gregory said, “I happily, readily, resolutely … accept the appointment of Pope Francis to the extraordinary See of Washington.”

Archbishop Pierre, in remarks before he read the mandate, noted that the installation Mass was “an occasion of joy” and urged Archbishop Gregory to “be the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd in this archdiocese.”

Calling the Church of Washington “a confluence of people of every race and nation,” the nuncio told Archbishop Gregory that “people thirst and hunger for Chist and you are the shepherd called to slake their thirst and their hunger.”

After the mandate was read, the College of Consultors – a group of priests and auxiliary bishops who advise the archbishop – inspected and approved the document naming Archbishop Gregory as the new archbishop of Washington.

Archbishop Pierre and Cardinal Wuerl then escorted Archbishop Gregory to the shrine’s cathedra (bishop’s throne) and the apostolic nuncio presented him with a crozier, the shepherd’s staff that signifies his leadership of his new flock in Washington. The faithful greeted their new archbishop with a rousing and sustained standing ovation.

After he was installed, Archbishop Gregory was greeted and welcomed to Washington by a delegation that included a rabbi, representatives of other faiths, laity of different ethnic backgrounds and others.

In his homily, Archbishop Gregory thanked God for “the lives of countless people who are so dear to me.’

“I give praise to God for my parents, Ethel and Wilton, who cooperated with God in giving me the breath of life,” he said. “I pause in sheer appreciation and deep admiration for my beloved grandmother, Etta Mae, a woman who may have lacked any academic degrees but whose heart was filled with love, wisdom and common sense which she generously shared with my two sisters – Elaine and Claudia – and me. A brother could not have better or more loving sisters than do I.”

The new archbishop also thanked the laity, religious, and clergy of the Archdiocese of Washington who, he said, “have provided me an affectionate and embarrassingly gracious welcome.”

“I have already come to admire and respect them as a true family of faith committed to their local Church and to their neighbors,” he said. “I look forward to deepening my closeness with and my love for them.”

He also praised his predecessor, Cardinal Wuerl, whom the archbishop called “a cherished friend and episcopal colleague.”

“He (Cardinal Wuerl) is, above all, a true Christian gentleman, and I thank him publicly and sincerely for his warm welcome, his gentle demeanor, his support and his affirmation,” Archbishop Gregory said.

Calling Archbishop Gregory’s appointment to Washington a sign of Pope Francis’s “pastoral love for this archdiocese,” Cardinal Wuerl, in welcoming the large crowd who attended the installation Mass, said, “this day we have looked forward to with great and eager enthusiasm.”

“Our Church rejoices,” the cardinal said. “This faith community of great cultural and ethnic diversity recognizes (Archbishop Gregory’s) many gifts and we welcome him as a faith-filled pastor.”

To highlight the diversity of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Washington, the readings for the Mass were read in both English and Spanish, and the Prayers of the Faithful were offered in English, French, Vietnamese, Tagalog (one of several Filipino languages), Igbo (the language of natives of southeastern Nigeria), Chinese, American Sign Language and Spanish.

Archbishop Gregory also offered prayers in both Spanish and English.

The installation Mass was broadcast live on the Eternal Word Television Network and streamed on social media. It was initially planned for the Mass to be held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. However, to accommodate the large number attending the Mass, the location was changed to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America.

In addition, on Sunday, May 26, Archbishop Gregory will celebrate a 10 a.m. Mass of Thanksgiving at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington. The cathedral is the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Washington, and where the “cathedra” (bishop’s chair) that represents the teaching authority of the bishop is located. The Mass on May 26 is open to the public.