Supporters of new Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory came from near and far to attend his Installation Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on May 21. For many of them, the day marked a personally significant moment in history: the installation of the first African American archbishop of Washington.

Ron Jackson, who grew up in Mississippi and remembers being required to sit in the back pews while attending Mass, on May 21 sat near the front of the basilica, 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.

Jackson, who is the former director of the D.C. Catholic Conference and now works as the senior director of government affairs for Catholic Charities USA, also remembered knocking on doors to register black voters when he was just 16 years old, under the leadership of the pastor of his church.

“But for the Church, we wouldn’t have been able to make the gains we did,” he said.

Now, Jackson is looking forward to seeing Archbishop Gregory, whom he has known for about 25 years, lead his local Church. During the time he has known Archbishop Gregory, he said he has “always known him to be an outstanding leader for the Church.”

“For him to get this assignment is ideal,” he said. “It speaks volumes for his ability to lead and his service to the Church.”

Archbishop Gregory waves during the opening procession of his May 21 Mass of Installation as the seventh archbishop of Washington. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Veronica C. Stubbs, who grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland, said, “it is an honor and a privilege to be here on this historic occasion,” which she ranks on the same level as when she attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the country’s first African American president. In 1963, she also attended the March on Washington.

Stubbs, who is a parishioner of Mount Calvary in Forestville, Maryland, and a member of the Knights of Peter Claver, Ladies Auxiliary, said she thinks the installation of Archbishop Gregory “is going to be a unifying force for the Archdiocese of Washington.”

Judge Conrad Johnson, who was with a group that drove down from Pittsburgh to attend the Installation Mass, said he came first of all to support Pope Francis’s decision to “place such confidence and faith” in Archbishop Gregory to lead the Archdiocese of Washington, which he said is “very pivotal to the Catholic Church in the country.”

“It is very historic to have the first African American to lead the diocese of D.C.,” he said, noting that if Archbishop Gregory is named to the College of Cardinals, he will also be the first African American cardinal. The appointment of Archbishop Gregory, he said, serves “to show the world that the Church is inclusive, it’s universal, it’s calling all to Christ.”

A woman prays during the May 21 Installation Mass (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Adrienne Ngoma, who also came from Pittsburgh and was dressed in traditional clothing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the reason she came “is to pray for the former archbishop,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was the bishop of Pittsburgh before he came to Washington.

“For me, he is a holy man,” she said, adding that she planned to “pray for comforting” for him as well as “to support the new archbishop.”

Joanne Edwards, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Washington, said seeing the first African American Archbishop installed is “heartwarming.”

“I think he will do an excellent job,” she said. “He is a good, strong leader.”

Kimberly Daniels, who traveled from Atlanta to attend the Mass, said she has known Archbishop Gregory her entire life, and their families are close friends.

“I remember my family spending a lot of time praying for him, especially when he was a young priest,” she said.

When he was named the next archbishop of Washington, “I was thankful and sad at the same time,” she said.

“This is a man that has supported me all my life, and I’m thankful to support such a great accomplishment,” she said. “He is a genuine people person, and I think the Archdiocese of Washington will do extremely well with his unique personal touch.”

Archbishop Gregory blesses a baby at the reception following his Installation Mass. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Sister Roberta Fulton, a member of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur and the president of the National Black Sisters Conference, said, “I think it is God’s grace and mercy that has brought us to this moment.”

“The way I’ve known [Archbishop Gregory], there is nothing too hard for him to do, because he takes it in a spirit of, God has called him to it and he needs to go out and be a disciple,” she said.  “He is a truly humble servant.”

And whenever he accomplishes something, Archbishop Gregory “will tell you it is God’s grace,” said Sister Fulton.

“He would always say, ‘God will do things through us that we cannot imagine,'” she recalled.

Archbishop Gregory poses for photos with a group that attended the May 21 Installation Mass. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Janise Miller, a parishioner of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Atlanta, said she thinks Archbishop Gregory’s strengths as a pastor are “that he listens to people; he is caring and concerning.”

“He takes very seriously his pledge and hope to be a shepherd for the people,” she said. “…His gift is bringing people together.”

Father Urey Mark, the director and chaplain for Catholic Newman Centers at several universities in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, called the installation of Archbishop Gregory “an epic moment in the history of the U.S. Catholic Church, in the history of this archdiocese, and the history of the universal Church.”

“The Holy Father has chosen the right person for the right time,” he added.

Rock Anderson, who just moved to Washington from Atlanta, recalled an example of Archbishop Gregory's care and concern. His cousin knows the archbishop’s family, and when Anderson’s mother was sick with cancer and in her last days, Archbishop Gregory called him on his cell phone, even though he had never met him before. While he was in the hospital, he answered the phone, and Archbishop Gregory asked to be put on speaker so he could say a prayer for his mother.

“I think that shows the type of man he is,” said Anderson. “Talk about someone being Christ-like, being obedient to the work he is here to do.”

Following the installation Mass, Anderson said, “just being here is one of the proudest moments I’ve had as a Catholic.”

Archbishop Gregory greets women religious during his Mass of Installation as the new archbishop of Washington on May 21 at the National Shrine. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)