HYATTSVILLE, Maryland — As Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory’s car pulled up to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville Dec. 3, about three dozen employees greeted him with applause, welcoming him home to the Archdiocese of Washington.
Reflecting coronavirus safety precautions, the employees wore face masks and stood socially distanced from each other in the parking lot, with some holding red star-shaped balloons, signifying the color of his new rank as a cardinal in the Catholic Church.
Five days earlier, Pope Francis had elevated Gregory and 12 other prelates to the College of Cardinals during a Nov. 28 consistory in Rome.
As he arrived back to work as Washington’s archbishop, a large blue banner with his coat of arms and the words “Welcome Home, Wilton Cardinal Gregory” had been erected in front of his parking spot.
“It’s good to be home!” he said, waving to the crowd.
He shared something that his mentor, the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin — whom he served as a priest and auxiliary bishop — had jokingly said about being a cardinal in Rome and back home: “I love going to Rome, and I love being with the Holy Father. I love being in that city … (but in Rome) there’s 40 or 50 cardinals. Here I’m the only one!”
Later that day at a noon Mass of thanksgiving in the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center’s St. Ursula Chapel, Gregory noted, “Every Mass is a Mass of thanksgiving, because every Mass is a celebration of Christ’s gift of himself to his Father on our behalf.”
The cardinal thanked the archdiocesan employees and about a dozen priests for joining him at the Mass, and he also thanked his auxiliary bishops for being there, noting that Pope Francis earlier that week named Washington Auxiliary Bishop Michael W. Fisher as the new bishop of Buffalo, New York.
He thanked Fisher “for his devotion, for his kindness and for his dedication to this local Church,” adding that he would “bring all the gifts he has, and the gift that he is, to the Diocese of Buffalo.”
Gregory also thanked Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, retired archbishop of Washington, for his presence at the Mass, noting that he “has been such a friend of mine for so many, many years.”
Recalling the welcome home he’d received earlier outside the Pastoral Center, he said: “Within a year and eight months, this has really become my home. It (that welcome) was very much an expression of the family greeting me, telling me, ‘Welcome home!'” Gregory was named to head the Washington Archdiocese in April 2019 and was installed the next month.
The cardinal smiled and quoted a line from Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of the Hired Man”: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.'”
Gregory added, “Home is where you belong.”
He noted that day’s Gospel emphasized “you’ve got to build your home, your house on a solid foundation, because there will be challenges, there will be storms and winds that will buffet that house.” That foundation, that rock, to build your home upon is Christ, he said.
The new cardinal added, “I feel very comfortable and very much at home in this house which is the Archdiocese of Washington, because it is built on a solid foundation, a foundation of your faith and your love for Christ Jesus. … I’m so grateful that I am now a part of this family.”
After Communion, Father Daniel Carson, the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator of the curia, noted the employees there were preparing a spiritual bouquet to be presented to Gregory Dec. 7, his 73rd birthday. A spiritual bouquet can include things such as prayers, Mass attendance, and acts of charity or sacrifice on someone’s behalf.
The cardinal was presented with a gift from local Catholic school leaders, and also cards prepared by children in the religious education programs at St. Anthony’s Parish in Washington and St. Anthony’s Parish in North Beach, Maryland.
In his closing remarks at the Mass, Gregory noted a happy surprise he had in the days leading up to the consistory.
“Pope Francis invited me to have Thanksgiving Day lunch with him. We didn’t have turkey,” he said, later explaining they had a pasta dish. “He shared with me his wonderful kindness, his great joy and humor.”
The cardinal added, “I shared with him the great goodness of the people of the Archdiocese of Washington.”
Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.