WASHINGTON — During his installation ceremony as the new archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory acknowledged the struggles that have recently impacted the Catholic Church and urged Catholic leaders and laity not to lose faith.
“We stand at a defining moment for this local faith community,” he said in his homily during the May 21 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, stressing that “our recent sorrow and shame do not define us” but should chasten the archdiocese to continue the work ahead.
The archbishop, reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading about the apostles who had grown fearful with turbulent weather at sea, said the narrative is a “worthy metaphor for us as people of faith who have been tossed about” by “waves of unsettling revelations.”
The former leader of the Atlanta Archdiocese who also had served as the bishop of Belleville, Ill., and as an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, did not mention the sexual abuse crisis by name but clearly he didn’t have to.
The congregation in the basilica greeted the archbishop with some cheers during the opening procession, sustained applause after his formal acceptance of the role as their shepherd and in waves of applause during the recessional at the end of the two-hour Mass, when some reached out to him and many took pictures with their cellphones.
His message focused primarily on comparing the Church now with frightened apostles at sea who had forgotten that Jesus was on the boat with them.
“I know in my heart and I believe you know in your hearts as well: Jesus is in the boat with us” even in turbulent times, he said.
Archbishop Gregory stressed that he didn’t have the answers, nor was there a single ministry or program to solve the current crisis, but he was confident that the Church should put its trust in God and God alone.
He urged Church leaders to admit their own failures and stressed that for his part he would laugh and cry with members of the archdiocese and would admit faults “when I commit them, not when they are revealed,” which drew applause.
“We begin our journey on unnaturally choppy seas,” he reiterated at the end of his homily and once again reminded the congregation to realize that Jesus has never left them.
At the opening of the Mass, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, acting administrator of the archdiocese after the pope accepted his resignation last year, welcomed Archbishop Gregory as a “faith-filled pastor” and thanked Pope Francis for selecting him as the new archbishop of Washington.
“Trust your instincts and get out of chancery” to encounter your new archdiocese, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, U.S. papal nuncio, said, reiterating what Archbishop Gregory said on the day of the announcement of his new assignment that he certainly intended to do.
In response to these opening remarks, Archbishop Gregory said he comes to this humble moment with gratitude, joy and confidence, believing that God who has always been with him will continue to be at his side.
For many in the congregation, the installation of the first African American archbishop of Washington marked a significant moment in history.
Ron Jackson, who grew up in Mississippi and remembers being required to sit in the back pews while attending Mass, sat near the front of the basilica May 21 and said: “To see an African American archbishop be appointed to the archdiocese … it really means a lot.”
“This is a blessed day for me as a lifelong Catholic,” he added.