My name is Daniela. I was named after my father and his grandfather. I was also named this because of St. Daniel the Stylite. Since the moment that my name was decided, I had already been instilled with the certainty that my upbringing would include Catholicism in one way or another. I attended Catholic school for 6 years, formed part of the choir that memorized all of the hymns, attended mass regularly, and the majority of my field trips included a visit to those less fortunate (the one I recall the most is a visit to a Center for children with Down Syndrome). Sunday school and catechism meant going back to school over the weekend and taking additional classes. What I remember most about it all was the overwhelming need from everyone around me to prepare for Pope Saint John Paul II’s visit to Mexico in 1999. It wasn’t that I remembered this specifically because of the importance in his visit, but rather the intense feeling of inferiority that I noticed most people around me felt.
According to a study compiled by the Pew Research Center in 2016, Mexico has the globe’s second largest Catholic population consisting of 81% of Mexicans identifying as such. Out of this study, 90% were raised Catholic and only 81% retained their religion. I fall into the 9% for various reasons, one of these being that inferiority I felt as a brown-skinned Catholic. Although I can only echo the feelings of a once-Catholic that felt like the color of my skin was always going to cause me to be inferior to fair skinned brethren of the church, I’ve always known the Catholic church to be discriminative against persons of color. In the 15th Century, several papal bulls were issued by the Catholic church including “Dum Diversas” (1452) and “Inter Caetera” (1493). Dum Diversas was issued as permission to reduce any “Saracens (Muslims) and pagans and any other unbelievers” to perpetual slavery while Inter Caetera was issued for Spain and Portugal to colonize the Americas and its Native peoples as subjects. Colonization itself brought forth different racial combinations like mestizos, mulattos, creoles, and more, all of these are depicted in the caste system during the viceroyalty (in addition to eradicating Native religions and scriptures from the Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecs, and other tribes specifically within Mexico–but we won’t get into that this time).
Racial issues have always been a topic of discussion when it comes to the Catholic Church since then, although progress is seen to be made with a lot more left to go, especially now in times where civil rights are under a close eye by everyone with access to the internet and news networks. For example, for Catholics all over the world, all eyes are on Pope Francis as he makes progressive and inclusive actions ranging from his support of same sex civil unions, the transformation in diversity of his conclave, and most recently the appointment of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory into being named the first Black American Cardinal. All of these actions are equally important in a long-time demand for reparations from the Catholic Church, but because of current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, we’re called to learn more about Gregory and his impact on the American Catholic community, primarily Black Catholics.
There are a plethora of reasons into the importance of Gregory becoming one of Pope Francis’ cardinals, the most obvious reasons being the representation of the Black Catholic community and its historic importance in an institution that authorized slavery in the past, but there are a variety of other reasons into his significance within the Catholic Church that are cause for pride and steps forward in the right direction:
- In 2002 as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he presided over the adoption of the zero-tolerance policy for priests that were guilty of sexual abuse.
- In 2019, CBS News and the Associated Press reported that 1,700 of those accused which also included clergy were not only unsupervised, but have since moved on to become teachers, coaches, counselors, and are known to live near playgrounds.
- In recent months, he’s shown to have pushed for better church relations, calling for racial justice and harmony during a Mass in August commemorating the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington.
- During this time, he called for church leaders to improve race relations, citing the importance in young Black Catholics to be and feel represented.
- In 2004, he was named archbishop of Atlanta and welcomed the LGBTQ+ Catholic community as well as divorced devotees.
- He took over his predecessor’s role in 2019, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who found to have covered sexual abuse (and his predecessor was found guilty of sexually abusing of minors and adult seminarians).
- This history left a heavy burden on Gregory, who then promised the affected community that he would restore confidence in the archdiocese.
- He criticized President Trump’s action of posing with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church back in June, an act that caused massive disapproval within the D.C. Clergy.
- Not only is Gregory an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, but he is also an advocate for immigration reform and also a commissioner of a climate action plan for Catholics at Church and at home to protect the environment.
The call for Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory is a significant step forward in the Catholic church’s constant debacle of diversity and inclusion and most specifically, the battle for equal representation for the Black Catholic community. Alongside Gregory, the additional 12 cardinals to be elevated during the Vatican ceremony on November 28th are sure to mark a future that promises and enforces diversity and inclusion. Pope Francis’ selections are chosen in an effort to reach communities that are experiencing poverty, conflict and political tension or have never had an archbishop before. Among his chosen cardinals are:
- Iraq’s Louis Raphael Sako
- nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018
- Joseph Coutts of Karachi
- serves as liaison to encourage dialogue between Christians and Muslims
- Desire Tsarahazana of Toamasina, Madagascar
- only African amongst the newest cardinals and current archbishop to one of the world’s poorest countries
- Thomas Aquinas Manyo Maeda of Osaka
- widely involved in the peace movement in Hiroshima
- vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
- Pedro Barreto of Huancayo, Peru
- Fights for indigenous communities’ rights and poverty affecting Latin America
- Advocate for the environment and vice president of REPAM (a joint initiative of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM), the Confederation of Latin American Religious (CLAR), Caritas Latin America, and the Brazilian bishops’ conference’s commission for the Amazon).
I’ve always believed that the foundation of any structure is the most important and should be the strongest; I believe this in business and any other institution, and my thoughts towards Pope Francis’ Cardinal-selects are no different. Rather than the church advocating for diversity with no accountability or measurable goals that prove it, Pope Francis is taking action from the foundation that is the Vatican itself and thus ensuring accountability within each Cardinal-select.
The work that the newly appointed do on their own, for their church, and for their respective countries is already impressive as is. In addition to this, as a former Catholic, I feel a slight bit of faith when learning about the Cardinal-selects, and am impressed, more than anything. I grew up learning that religions cause segregation, war, and other crimes; that people often use faith as an excuse to do bad things; that’s partly why I don’t consider myself religious. History taught me that religious institutions are not kind to the poor, disabled, and overall less fortunate whether in health or wealth, but learning that prior to becoming selected, these archbishops in their respective countries have found ways to unite people or fight for those that don’t have ways to do so… maybe this is the change we–those that echo my feelings towards religion–need.