Archbishop Wilton Gregory received an ancient symbol of his new position as archbishop of Washington during a July 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in the nation's capital, when Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, conferred on him a sacred pallium blessed by Pope Francis.

“May this pallium be a symbol of your unity and a sign of your communion with the Apostolic See, a bond of love, and an incentive to courage,” said Archbishop Pierre, upon placing the lambs wool band around the neck and over the shoulders of Archbishop Gregory at the beginning of the Mass for the Investiture with the Sacred Pallium. 

The pallium – formally blessed by Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 29, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul and the only day in the Church calendar when palliums are blessed – is given only to metropolitan archbishops as a symbol of their participation in papal authority and represents a bishop’s responsibility to seek and serve the lost sheep.

“(The pallium) reminds the metropolitan archbishop and the faithful that the particular vocation and mission of every bishop is to be a good shepherd, a shepherd who places his sheep whether sick or weak upon his shoulders, carries him, guides him, cares for him and leads him to the source of living water,” said Archbishop Pierre, adding “Archbishop (Gregory), I hope you have broad shoulders.”

Archbishop Gregory, who was installed on May 21 as the seventh archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, was the principal celebrant of the Mass and was joined by Archbishop Pierre; Washington Auxiliary Bishops Michael Fisher and Roy E. Campbell Jr.; by Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the rector of the cathedral; and by nearly a dozen archdiocesan priests and deacons. Hundreds of Mass-goers filled the cathedral for the Sunday morning liturgy. 

The papal nuncio said the garment is “simple, yet has great meaning,” serving as a reminder for the metropolitan archbishop to be a shepherd “who knows how to treat others with compassion, and who sees the other as a neighbor worthy of dignity and respect,” said Archbishop Pierre.

It is also represents the archbishop’s union with his brother bishops and the Apostolic See, his pastoral authority within his province, and of his communion with the Holy Father as the successor to St. Peter and shepherd of the universal Church. 

Traditionally, the palliums are conferred during the same Mass in which they are blessed. However, several years ago, Pope Francis decided that palliums which he had blessed would be conferred by the papal nuncio in the archdiocese of the honored archbishop. The palliums are made of wool shorn from lambs blessed by the Holy Father on the feast of St. Agnes, Jan. 21. St. Agnes, whose name is the feminine form of Agnus (Latin for ‘lamb”) was a fourth century martyr. On her feast day, lambs are blessed. These lambs are then cared for by Benedictine nuns until their wool is shorn, cleaned and woven into the palliums.

During the June 29 Mass at which Archbishop Gregory received his sacred pallium from Pope Francis, the Holy Father reminded the metropolitan archbishops of the need to be witnesses, “witnesses to life, witnesses to forgiveness, and above all witnesses to Jesus,” said Archbishop Pierre.

On July 14, as Archbishop Gregory knelt before the cathedral’s main altar, the papal nuncio imposed the sacred pallium and offered prayers asking God to grant (Archbishop Gregory) the grace to be “a faithful witness to Christ, the Good Shepherd.” Following the imposition of the pallium, the congregation – Archbishop Gregory’s new flock - erupted in applause.

Later in his homily, Archbishop Pierre spoke of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-27) in which mercy and compassion are at the center, while continuing to encourage Archbishop Gregory to lead by example and model his life after Jesus, the Good Shepherd. 

He said the members of the Church are like the unnamed man in the Gospel helped by the Good Samaritan, who offers love, mercy and healing. He said the faithful are also called to be like the Good Samaritan by showing similar compassion in various ways - visiting the elderly, comforting the sick, helping a woman facing a crisis pregnancy say “yes” to life, or aiding a migrant or refugee.

“Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his flock and feeds her with his Body and Blood. He is the Good Samaritan who brings healing and mercy to those wounded by sin, poverty and other forms of alienation. He is the teacher who leads by example. He is the teacher who gives us homework to, ‘Go and do likewise,’” Archbishop Pierre said. 

“Keep the figure of Christ before your eyes. As you teach, know that you teach not only by words, but also by your example. As a spiritual father to this family of faith, you must teach the fullness of the faith in word and in deed and (by) showing compassion to your neighbor,” he said to Archbishop Gregory. 

During the Prayers of the Faithful, prayers were offered that Archbishop Gregory, “who today receives the sign of his pastoral ministry as the chief shepherd of the Archdiocese of Washington, may lead this flock with charity and in union with the Holy Father.”

Last month, speaking at a reception before the Mass at the Vatican, Archbishop Gregory said that receiving the pallium “is not simply an honor, it’s a challenge and a responsibility, which I gladly accept at his (the pope’s) invitation.”

The archbishop also said, “I look forward to caring for the flock in Washington to the best of my ability.”

Before the final blessing, Archbishop Gregory thanked Archbishop Pierre, his brother bishops, priests and deacons for their presence and offered his gratitude to the St. Matthew’s Cathedral choir, lectors, servers and “all those who helped us praise God with such joy.”

Archbishop Gregory smiles after receiving the pallium, a sign of his office as the archbishop of Washington, at the July 14 Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral.