The following is excerpted from Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s March 25, 2020 interview with Mark Zimmermann, editor of the Catholic Standard newspaper and website of the Archdiocese of Washington, and Rafael Roncal, editor of the archdiocese's Spanish language publication El Pregonero. During the interview about the first anniversary of his being named as the new archbishop of Washington by Pope Francis on April 4, 2019, Archbishop Gregory was asked about immigration issues and diversity in the Catholic Church.

Rafael Roncal: “There’s nothing constant. It’s a paradox, the only constant is change. But one thing that always seems to be evolving and changing, is how can we build bridges to reach out to those who are outside of the formal society, to those living in legal limbo, the undocumented immigrants and the excluded  poor, for example?”

Archbishop Gregory: “The plight of the marginalized, first of all it is an obligation that flows, our need to reach out in compassionate support and love, that obligation flows from the Gospel, and it has been a part of the journey of the Church from the very beginning. It is not a new moment. Although the details of our particular issues are new, but they are not new in the whole journey of faith in the Church.

“Our immigrant communities are afraid, and they are afraid, they are frightened by much of the language that surrounds this issue, language that is certainly contrary to the Gospel, contrary to the nature of the Church, which is to be a family that welcomes and includes people. And so when we hear the language of hostility and rejection and condemnation and denigration, it frightens our people. 

“But the Church has to, because of our very nature, the Church has to stand with the poor, stand with those who are seeking to belong. The Catholic bishops of the United States have lobbied long and hard for comprehensive immigration reform, and we cannot give up that issue, we cannot abandon it, even in moments like this, where our energies, our thoughts are so obviously focused on health issues and the security of our nation. 

“But standing at the very borders of our country are thousands of people who seek to belong for the very same reasons that immigrants and new arrivals have come to these shores from the time we were first settled as a nation.”

A woman prays during the Archdiocese of Washington's annual Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, in December 2019 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In the photo below, youth participate in the Walk with Mary procession before the Mass. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

Rafael Roncal: “We are facing many challenges as a Church right now. How can we maintain the harmony that would benefit the rich diversity of our nation and our Church?”

Archbishop Gregory: “You’re putting your finger on an issue that has been a part of the fabric of Catholicism from day one. One of the earliest questions that the first Church members had to face was, borne in the context of the Jewish community, was how could they accept the Greeks who were now coming to Christ?

“So it’s not something that is new to us. It’s something that has been part of the nature of the Church from its earliest moments: How can the Church, born in one culture, welcome people of another culture, another language. 

“Earlier this month, we celebrated the great feast of St. Patrick, and Patrick’s great contribution was bringing the faith to the people of Ireland, who heard the Gospel and responded.

“The Church by its very nature must be about the work of inclusion, and inclusion means that we accept people with their cultural, their racial, their language, their ethnic diversity.

“The earliest questions from the first centuries of the Church: Do the new converts to Christianity from the Greek world, do they have to become Jewish to become Christian? They didn’t. They came with their culture, and they brought their language, and many of the gifts that belonged to them into the household of faith, and the household of faith grew richer, because people lived within the family and were respected with their various cultures. 

“That same theme is going on today. Now it’s much more complicated today, because the world has expanded. We are welcoming people from Central and Latin America, from countries in Asia and Africa and the Pacific rim, all of them are welcomed within the Church, and they don’t have to compromise who they are in order to express their love for Christ and belong to the household of faith.”

Archbishop Gregory blesses a student from St. Francis International School during a January 2020 Catholic Schools Week Mass at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)