Interview With Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington

Cross Catholic Outreach: Your Eminence, thank you for welcoming us to the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. As a member of the College of Cardinals, what does it mean for you to serve as Patron of Cross Catholic Outreach and publicly support our mission to serve the poorest of the poor?

Cardinal Wilton Gregory: Well, I believe that the College of Cardinals has been summoned by Pope Francis, but even before Pope Francis, Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II wanted the college to be more directly engaged in the ministry in the service of the poor. Pope Francis, of course, has made that a hallmark of this papacy. And it follows on his experience as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, where he was deeply involved with the poor in the neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, which were filled with people living on the margins.

Cross Catholic Outreach: A few weeks ago, at the start of the Catholic Social Ministry gathering, you said, “The poor, immigrants, prisoners, and the physically or emotionally impaired often find it impossible to obtain justice because their voices have been silenced or ignored.” How has Pope Francis helped them to be heard?

Cardinal Wilton Gregory: He has gone out to places where they live and where they reside, to highlight their plight but also to give them hope. The wonderful thing about the Holy Father and his devotion to the poor, he’s not just simply there to provide sustenance or assistance — although he does that in many different ways — he’s also there to provide hope. And for many of these people, for the people that we serve, the gift of hope is as important as a loaf of bread.

Cross Catholic Outreach: The Church teaches us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life. How is the Eucharist realized in the ministry of Cross Catholic Outreach, as we minister to the poor in dioceses throughout the world? And how does the Eucharist bring us all together in communion?

Cardinal Wilton Gregory: Well, first of all, the Eucharist is the heart of our identity. And as Catholics, we live the baptismal font. Like youngsters having been born, we’re hungry, and we’re hungry for the Word of God and for the bread of life. And I would hope that the work that Cross does reminds people of the centrality of our outreach to those who are hungry, not just for food, but hungry for a future, hungry for a direction, hungry for hope.

Cross Catholic Outreach: The Church is currently in the midst of the Synod on Synodality, a two-year process of reflection and sharing. What do you think is the best potential outcome of this process and what do you hope to see?

Cardinal Wilton Gregory: The best outcome would be that Catholics and their neighbors — people of other religions — because they too are invited to listening sessions and to opportunities to dialogue. The best outcome would be that the human family finds a successful way to talk to one another and to listen to one another. The listening sessions that are taking place in many different contexts throughout the world are not simply opportunities for people to highlight problems or difficulties or their gripes. They are opportunities for people to hear the voices of their neighbors, and hopefully to hear them in a way that they can respect and deepen their appreciation for their neighbors and in a special way, for those who are poor.

Cross Catholic Outreach: One of the faith-in-action projects that Cross Catholic Outreach offers to parishes is to participate in food packings to feed the hungry in the developing world. What would you say to encourage people to make a difference and participate in such an event?

Cardinal Wilton Gregory: Well, to be perfectly honest, the pandemic has provided a welcome opportunity for people to be aware of the hunger that our neighbors have. Cross Catholic obviously has a long history of going out to the places where the poor live or are forced to live. But the pandemic has also provided an opportunity for people to realize that we need each other. We will not exit the pandemic alone; we will only exit it together. And here in the Archdiocese of Washington, I am so proud to know and to have witnessed the generosity of our people who have helped in many ways, some providing food pantries or expanding parish food pantries, some engaging young people and helping them prepare bagged lunches for people who live on the streets. Because we have been engaged in an experience of isolation, it’s also heightened our need and our desire in many situations to reestablish the bonds that unite us.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Your Eminence, we were talking before we started recording that you’ve been a bishop for nearly 40 years, in the Diocese of Belleville for a number of years, in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and now here in Washington. What’s been your observation in these different parts of the country of how Catholic charity impacts the poor here in the United States?

Cardinal Wilton Gregory: Well, the work that Catholic Charities and Catholic social outreach communities and organizations do puts the best face on the Catholic Church. Whether it’s Catholic Charities or Cross Catholic, whether it’s St. Vincent de Paul or other organizations that reach out to the homeless, to the hungry, to the aged and to people who are on the margins of society, it tells the world who we are — that we are a loving family. And when we are at our best, we do that for one another.

So, I’m just very, very privileged and very proud, not only of the work that has been done here in the Archdiocese of Washington during the pandemic, but it also highlights for me many of the opportunities that I’ve witnessed in Chicago — my home diocese — and then in the Diocese of Belleville and in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and now here in Washington. People are amazingly good if we give them the opportunity and the occasion to demonstrate their kindness, their charity and their willingness to help their neighbors.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Finally, your Eminence, the Catholic Church has a long tradition of helping the poor and the suffering. Is there a particular saint who inspires you in this regard?

Cardinal Wilton Gregory: Well, to be perfectly honest, when I think about that question, almost all of the saints, in some form or fashion, were men and women of charity. Maybe they lived in a community that was suffering from a pandemic disease. Maybe, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, they went out and found people living on the streets in the gutters. Maybe they were people who were engaged in helping the sick, Camillus de Lellis.

You know, to name one saint is to possibly get into trouble because the saints have all been men and women of extraordinary charity and insight. They found people who needed help and they provided that help.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Your Eminence, thank you so much for your time today. It’s a blessing to have your support. And on behalf of everyone at Cross Catholic Outreach, thank you for serving as our patron, helping to raise awareness for our work to help the poorest of the poor around the world.