New Archbishop's Life and Legacy
‘Welcome to the family!’
May 16, 2019
After Pope Francis named Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory as the new archbishop of Washington on April 4, Archbishop Gregory at an opening press conference acknowledged the diversity of the Archdiocese of Washington, saying, “You embrace a wide host of races, cultures and languages. You are young and old. I seek to be a pastor for this entire family of faith.”
And his diverse family of faith will welcome him in a special way at his May 21 Mass of Installation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he will be greeted during the Mass by members of the archdiocese representing different cultures and backgrounds. Readings at the Mass will be in English and Spanish, and petitions will be prayed in eight different languages: English, French, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Igbo, Chinese, American Sign Language, and Spanish. Songs will be sung in English and Spanish, and the Archdiocese of Washington’s Gospel Mass Choir will sing a song after Communion. The African Catholic Association is encouraging its members to wear traditional dress to the Mass.
“It will be a multicultural experience,” said Claudio Mora, the director of the archdiocese’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach. “Everybody wants to welcome him and be there.”
Catholics in the archdiocese come from many different lands and speak many different languages, but they share one faith.
The 655,000 Catholics who pray in 139 parishes in the District of Columbia and the five surrounding Maryland counties within the Archdiocese of Washington include newly arrived immigrants from nearly every continent and transplanted residents from across the United States, and people whose ancestors immigrated here nearly four centuries ago. They worship at churches located beside city streets, in suburban neighborhoods and along country roads. Each weekend, Masses are celebrated in more than 20 languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Polish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Haitian Creole and American Sign Language. Spanish-language Masses are celebrated at 38 locations to serve the nearly 270,000 Catholics of Hispanic ancestry living in the community. In 2017, it was estimated that the archdiocese also included 66,000 African American, African and Caribbean Catholics, and 34,000 Catholics from Asia.
When the Archdiocese of Washington celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1989, the theme chosen was “Mosaic of Faith” to symbolize how the archdiocese’s different communities united to form one family of faith.
Mora compares the archdiocese’s diversity to an orchestra with different instruments, like wind, string and percussion, that when united by faith, produce beautiful music. “That’s what I’ve seen in our parishes,” he said.
“Even though we’re from so many different cultures and traditions, we’re united by our faith and our love for the Lord,” Mora added.
Throughout the year, Masses, processions and other gatherings celebrate that diversity. A White Mass each fall at St. Matthew’s Cathedral celebrates the gifts that Catholics with special needs offer to the Church. On June 1, the Cameroonian community at the Church of the Resurrection in Burtonsville, Maryland, will host the annual Celebration of Saints of Africa, which brings together the African Catholic communities in the Washington area. This year’s theme is “United as African Family, We Journey through Faith.”
“The same faith in God we have can be celebrated, lived and experienced in a different way by a different culture,” Mora said.
Each December, Hispanic Catholics from throughout the area lead a “Walk with Mary,” processing from the Shrine of the Sacred Heart to the National Shrine, to participate in a Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. And each spring, Asian and Pacific Island Catholics join a Marian pilgrimage to the National Shrine, processing into the basilica wearing native dress and carrying statues of the Blessed Mother, where their call to prayer includes their cultures’ traditional dances and music, before they pray the rosary in different languages and then pray together at Mass.
Mora noted that the archdiocese’s diverse cultures share a devotion to Mary, which can be seen in the name of ethnic parishes and missions, like Our Lady Queen of Poland and St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Silver Spring, and Our Lady of China Pastoral Mission that worships in Washington and in Rockville. Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Silver Spring is designed to resemble a pagoda.
“The love and devotion they have (toward Mary) is the same in every country. She is present. She’s always pointing us to Jesus,” Mora said. “It doesn’t matter what image we have of her, she will always be directing us to her Son.”
Archbishop Gregory has expressed appreciation for how the different communities within the Church have gifts to offer, and share those gifts every day. At his installation Mass as archbishop of Atlanta in 2005, he noted, “We represent many different ages, races, professions and cultures, but we are all Christ’s people, and we must work to proclaim with joy and conviction the treasures of our Catholic faith and to respond to the challenges of tomorrow.”
In a recent column in the Georgia Bulletin newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory noted that this spring he marked the 60th anniversary of his own Baptism at the Easter Vigil in 1959, and how special that sacrament is for those who became Catholic at this year’s Easter Vigil. He concluded his column by encouraging people to greet the new Catholics at their parish with the words, “Welcome to the family!’”
And members of the Archdiocese of Washington’s diverse family of faith can greet Archbishop Gregory with those same words, as he is about to accept the shepherd’s staff as the new archbishop of Washington.