The fact that Pope Francis has named Archbishop Wilton Gregory as the new archbishop of Washington, and that when he is installed on May 21, he will also become the first African American prelate to lead the Archdiocese of Washington, is meaningful to Jacquelyn Greenfield of Incarnation Parish in the nation’s capital.

“That’s significant to me,” said Greenfield, who was among Washington-area African American Catholics interviewed by the Catholic Standard about Archbishop Gregory’s appointment. 

Greenfield – who serves as a catechist and Eucharistic minister and sings in the choir at Incarnation Parish, where her husband, Deacon William “Mike” Greenfield, also serves – added, “I’m glad the pope recognized the qualifications in him that would make him a worthy candidate for this position.”

After the appointment was announced, she has read about Archbishop Gregory’s background and experience, and Greenfield said she is very happy that he will be the next archbishop of Washington. 

“I was thrilled because of his history in dealing with the sex abuse crisis,” Greenfield said of Archbishop Gregory, who as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, served as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 when the bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which includes a “zero tolerance” policy on priests who abuse children.

Greenfield said that Archbishop Gregory’s experience in facing the abuse crisis gives him “an awareness and sensitivity of what’s going on,” and a recognition of “the hurt people feel.”

As a catechist, Greenfield said she appreciates the strong child protection measures instituted in the Archdiocese of Washington, but she also feels empathy for those harmed by abuse, and sympathy for the good priests she knows. “I just want us to heal,” she said.

Expressing hope about Washington’s new archbishop, Greenfield said, “I feel like he’s going to take the time to hear the people. It’s so important to me that we find the time to heal. There’s so many tears shed.”

Greenfield added that she is praying that Archbishop Gregory’s experience “will help bring more unity to the Archdiocese of Washington. I’m really thrilled he’s coming, and I’m praying for him. We all need to pray for him.”

The African Catholic Association of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia is encouraging area Catholics with roots in Africa to attend Archbishop Gregory’s Mass of Installation and wear traditional dress from their countries.

“We are very excited” that Archbishop Gregory will be the next archbishop of Washington, said Dr. Seikor Bundu, a past president of the African Catholic Association. “We want to make our presence known at the church.”

On June 1, the African Catholic Association is sponsoring a Celebration of Saints of Africa at the Church of the Resurrection in Burtonsville, Maryland. The event, which will run from 1-8 p.m., will include a rosary procession, prayer, praise and worship, a Mass, and a social gathering.

Dr. Bundu said the group – which includes Catholics from 13 African nations – fosters kinship, pride and unity among African Catholics in the Washington area, and shows “the strong presence and contributions of African Catholics in the United States.” The retired science and math teacher, who is a member of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, said African Catholics are looking forward to welcoming Washington’s new archbishop. 

When Amado Alvarez Jr., a member of Nativity Parish in Washington, D.C., heard that Archbishop Gregory had been named as Washington’s archbishop, he remembers thinking, “How proud I was that he would be the first African American to lead the Archdiocese of Washington.”

He added, “I’m also even more proud that he comes already with the tools to lead and bring the archdiocese together, tools such as being warm, compassionate, a listener, and not afraid to make hard decisions. In other words, he will be a great shepherd the archdiocese needs at this moment. I’m very hopeful he can solve the problems he inherited.”

Alvarez, a retired telecommunications director for AT&T and the D.C. government, grew up attending St. Martin of Tours Parish in Washington. His father was from Spain, and his mother was African American and from Virginia. He is the immediate past deputy for the Knights of Columbus in Washington, a group that last year donated an ultrasound machine to the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, and he volunteers as a sacristan at Nativity Church.

Racism is a reality and ongoing challenge in this society and in the Catholic Church, Alvarez said, expressing admiration for older African American members of his parish who have vivid memories of having to sit in the back of church during times of segregation, but who kept the faith. “You have to give them credit for having a strong belief in their faith and in God,” he said.

Alvarez, who said he and his wife Regina are planning to attend Archbishop Gregory’s installation, recently got to meet the archbishop-designate when he stopped by a fish fry that Nativity Parish was holding on a Friday during Lent.

“He has such a warm personality,” said Alvarez.

The Nativity parishioner said he is hopeful that Washington’s new archbishop “can engage the black community and establish a dialogue between the Church and the black community. I’m hoping Archbishop Gregory can energize and evangelize the young black members of our community, particularly the males, to be more energetic and active in their parishes.”

In an earlier interview, Sandra Coles-Bell, the program director for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, said Archbishop Gregory’s appointment “is a source of joy, no denying that” for Black Catholics in the archdiocese.

She added, “I think he’s going to be an archbishop for all of us, for the entire Archdiocese of Washington.”

That point was echoed in a statement by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell Jr., the newly elected president of the National Black Catholic Congress, who praised Archbishop Gregory’s appointment to Washington, saying, “Archbishop Gregory will be able to identify with, and compassionately serve all of the people of this archdiocese, who represent very diverse ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds. I look forward to working closely with him in his ministry of leading and healing all who make up this Church and this community.”