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At his May 21, 2019 Mass of Installation as the new archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory encouraged Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington who had endured the storm of the clergy abuse crisis to trust in Jesus, who had calmed the stormy seas as He rode in a boat with His disciples.
“He is here when the seas are calm, and He is here during every moment of uncertainty, anger, fear and shame,” Archbishop Gregory said in his homily at the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, adding that Jesus “invites us to place our trust in Him… He wants nothing more than for us to trust Him to bring us back safely to shore and even be bolstered by the trials that we have endured.”
By March 2020, people in the Washington area and across the country faced another storm, as the coronavirus pandemic left sickness, death and economic suffering in its wake. In the month and one-half since COVID-19 has swept through the country, Archbishop Gregory again encouraged his flock in the Archdiocese of Washington to remember that Christ is always with them.
In a March 12 statement when he announced that Catholic schools would close and public Masses would not be celebrated in Catholic churches in the archdiocese for the time being in accordance with government recommended restrictions to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, Archbishop Gregory said, “My number one priority as your archbishop is to ensure the safety and health of all who attend our Masses, the children in our schools, and those we welcome through our outreach and services. Please know that this decision does not come lightly to close our schools or cancel Masses.”
Archbishop Gregory added, “We are profoundly saddened that we are not able to celebrate our sacraments as a community for the time being, but we know Christ remains with us at all times – specifically in times of worry like this… May the peace of Christ settle any anxieties and fear we may have. Let us continue to pray for the people whose lives have been impacted by the coronavirus as well as those who continue to care for them.”
Archbishop Gregory is shown in a video message he offered to the people of the Archdiocese of Washington shortly after the coronavirus shutdown began. (Screen grab/Andrew Rozario)Soon after, in a video message filmed in his chapel where he begins each day in prayer, Archbishop Gregory offered a video message of hope to the people of the Archdiocese of Washington.
“You are my first prayer intention. I ask the Lord and our Blessed Mother to watch over each and every one of you throughout the day, and when I offer Mass here, you are the first intention that I present to the Lord in the Eucharist. I do that because you are first in my heart,” the archbishop said.
He encouraged local Catholics during this period of quarantine from the virus to find a quiet place in their homes where each day “you can speak to the Lord and present your needs, your hopes, your dreams and your fears. He is present in all our lives, and He listens attentively to all His children… We are still united in Christ even though we are not able to be together for the Eucharist… Please know of my prayers, my love and my personal support for each and every one of you.”
In his March 19, 2020 “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard newspaper, Archbishop Gregory reflected on the irony of not being able to attend Masses at such a challenging time.
“I honestly never dreamed I would live in a moment where the same disquieting circumstances that compel us as Catholics to want to gather more frequently in worship, prayer and solidarity would also prevent us from being able to do so securely – when so many of a generation who find their deepest solace in the Mass would find themselves most at risk simply by their participation in it,” he wrote, alluding to the fact that the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions are especially at risk of dying from the coronavirus.
The archbishop noted that “even in the uncertainty of this current situation, if we are open, God will use this moment to bring our hearts closer to Him and more firmly in union with one another.”
He wrote that perhaps in the “new normal” of the coronavirus’s impact, people’s lives might be marked by “more gratitude, appreciation, service, mercy and joy.”
Archbishop Gregory concluded that column by expressing hope that, “This disease will not get the best of us; rather, we implore our merciful God to use it to bring out the best in us.”
A client receives help at the Spanish Catholic Center's food pantry in Washington, D.C., which is operated by Catholic Charities. (Catholic Charities photo)In a March 25 interview with the Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers of the archdiocese just before the first anniversary of Pope Francis naming him as the new archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Gregory was asked about how the coronavirus shutdown had impacted his life.
“The limitations on being physically present to my people is a real difficult experience for me,” the archbishop said. “Obviously, I’m trying to follow as carefully as I can the recommendations from our government and health care officials, but it basically means I’m a captive in my home. I can get out a little bit for short periods of time, to do things like go to the grocery store, drop something off at the post office. But that’s not the way I’d like to or thought about being a bishop or a priest.”
When asked how he has found Christ’s peace during this unsettling time, he said, “It’s given me a lot of time for prayer… I have a nice chapel here at my residence, and I can spend some leisurely hours, leisurely time, with the Lord, and that’s a good thing, because it allows me both to hopefully deepen my prayer life, but also gives me the opportunity of praying for my people, even though I can’t be with them physically.”
During the interview, Archbishop Gregory said he believes that “without a doubt what this crisis has done, is help bring to the fore both the generosity and selfless spirit of our people,” and he said he hoped that people would be inspired to reach out in a safe manner to “the people who are alone, the elderly who live alone, the sick, the poor people that basically depend upon the charity of others to even survive. And I know that many different programs are trying to figure out ways to do that beyond just giving a financial contribution.”
The archbishop said at a time when people in the country and even in the Church are divided, he hoped they might be united in the face of this challenge. “If we can capture a sense of our unity, our frailty, our common exposure, it might help us step back from the polarized nature that has seemingly captured us both politically and even ecclesially,” he said.
During the shutdown of Washington-area schools as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, Georgina Wilkinson helps her daughter Willa, a fifth grader, and her son Ewan, a seventh grader, with their online school work. Wilkinson serves as special projects manager for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Secretariat for Communications. (Family photo)In Archbishop Gregory’s April 2, 2020 “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the Catholic Standard, he noted that families staying at home together during the coronavirus shutdown might find opportunities to deepen their faith.
“Our families must be re-introduced to praying together. Not just a few brief words at special meals, but sustained time for speaking to God together – young and old, parents and children who now presume to speak to the Father of us all with a common voice – as an expression of the church within the home,” he wrote.
He said parents over the years have often lamented that they wished they had spent more time with their children “because of the press of outside interests and obligations that usurp family time. The moment we are now living through can be a relief for that situation. In spite of the inconveniences that our situation imposes upon all of us, there are graces to be discovered even therein.”
Archbishop Gregory added that “meal times in sequestered family life might be the first opportunity for real conversation – so put down the smart-phones. Shared chores and common projects might also be opportunities to rediscover the value to be found in each other.” He expressed hope that with the help of prayer, “we will all survive this moment and learn to love God and one another more…”
Before Easter, the Archdiocese of Washington posted a special message from Archbishop Gregory to the more than 1,100 people in the Archdiocese of Washington preparing to become full members of the Church, including the elect who will be receiving Baptism, Confirmation and Communion, and candidates who are already baptized but will be receiving the sacraments of Confirmation and Communion.
Archbishop Gregory noted how joyful it was at the beginning of Lent to celebrate together their desire to become members of the Catholic Church in the archdiocese.
“In the intervening weeks, an unimaginable pandemic has altered every aspect of our daily lives. Our new reality is that we live in a paused moment,” the archbishop said, noting that has prevented “our ability to join together in worship of God as a community of believers.”
Archbishop Gregory said that “my disappointment blends with yours as we must wait,” while the time to resume public gatherings is unknown at this time.
“Know that as soon as we are safely able to welcome you into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation, our parishes will throw open wide their doors and our arms in an embrace of welcome,” he said.
The archbishop concluded his message by saying, “As we continue to pause, I pray that together we look with confidence to an Easter horizon of resurrection, hope and new life.”
At the April 11 Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory lights the Paschal Candle held by Dominican Brother Justin Bulger. The Paschal Candle symbolizes how Christ is the light of the world. The nearly two-hour long Mass was livestreamed on the Archdiocese of Washington's YouTube channel. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)Marking his first Easter as the archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory celebrated the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, April 11, at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in the nation’s capital, and encouraged people to seek the risen Christ who reveals Himself in today’s world, just as He appeared in wonder to the first disciples.
“Easter is the feast that urges us not to look for Him in the tomb, but to remember He always goes before us, if we only take the time to search for Jesus with our hearts and our eyes open and always eager to find Him,” the archbishop said in his homily.
As the archdiocese continued its suspension of public Masses in accordance with government coronavirus restrictions, the Mass was livestreamed on its YouTube channel and celebrated in English and Spanish with sign language interpretation. It was viewed by more than 1,700 people from throughout the archdiocese, from across the United States and around the world.
Archbishop Gregory, who was named as the new archbishop of Washington by Pope Francis one year earlier in April 2019, said Christ is especially to be found among those in need.
“In truth, Christ is always to be found in the midst of His people,” the archbishop said, adding, “but long after the Easter joy is a memory, the Lord will also remain to be revealed among the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the immigrant, the aged, the oppressed, the homeless and the sorrowful.”
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory also noted how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted this year’s celebration of Easter.
“Churches the world over will be empty tomorrow, as Christians who would ordinarily gather to recall our unique identity as members of a family of faith, must do so temporarily via these electronic broadcasts,” he said. “In a special way, Jesus is to be found among those believers who long to be with us physically, but whose presence through technology, as incomplete as it may be, is still a vehicle to celebrate the Lord’s triumph over death.”
On a personal note, he said that at the Easter meals families would be having together, “There you will find the risen Christ in the warmth of your homes and in the eyes and smiles of your loved ones.”
The archbishop added, “Our hearts long to encounter the very some Lord that brought radiance to that first Easter morn. We know He is risen, but He also is still present to those who believe in Him.”
At the Mass, prayers were offered “for the sick and the dying, especially those suffering from the current pandemic, that they may be freed from their infirmities and re-created in the life of the risen Christ,” and “for our deceased brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost their lives to the coronavirus, that they may rise to the new life of the victorious Christ.”
Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory offers the final blessing at his Easter Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in the nation's capital. The Mass was livestreamed on the archdiocese's YouTube channel. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)On Easter Sunday, a special Easter message from Archbishop Gregory was posted on the archdiocese’s website, in which he said, “Jesus is risen. Truly He is risen! Across the Archdiocese of Washington, in each of our homes, the light of the Risen Christ shines bright. While I wish I could be with you in person, I know that physical distance cannot separate us spiritually from one another. We remain united in faith as an Easter people as we pray for each other and all the sick and dying across the world during this pandemic. Together, we hold fast to Christ’s promise of ‘the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting’ that we celebrate this Easter season. Alleluia!”
Archbishop Gregory also tweeted an Easter message that said, “Today on my first Easter as your archbishop, I’d like to extend to all of our faithful, clergy and religious a sincere and heartfelt happy Easter. May it increase our love for the Risen Lord, for our faith, and for one another.”
In Archbishop Wilton Gregory's April 30, 2020 “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the Catholic Standard, he noted how Catholics proclaim “Alleluia” to praise God, especially in the Easter season, but he acknowledged that it might seem difficult to say that word in these challenging times.
“As we are currently sequestered in our homes because of COVID-19, we might not give much thought to all the wonderful ways that God continues to bless us. During moments like we are now experiencing, we might tend to forget that God’s goodness is still to be found in our families, in our faith – even when we cannot share personally in the ritual celebrations that mean so much to us. God is good all the time, and it is simply our responsibility to discover and to reflect upon how God’s generous love has touched our lives,” the archbishop wrote.
He added, “There are many things that bring anxiety and sorrow to our lives at this time. We listen to the mounting lists of those who have died because of this virus. We are shocked at the numbers of people who have lost their jobs because of the economic wreckage that this disease has brought to the entire world. We worry about the vulnerable people who are frightened because of the spread of this pandemic.”
But the archbishop noted signs of hope, pointing out that “even in the midst of the sorrow, there are expressions of spontaneous gratitude for the selfless service of so many medical staff persons, first responders, generous benefactors, and ordinary people who rise to the occasion with their charitable service. All of them deserve an Alleluia.”
Health care workers in New York City react outside NYU Langone Medical Center as emergency responders and people came out to cheer and thank them April 20, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Brendan McDermid, Reuters)Archbishop Gregory expressed gratitude for the people in parishes “who continue to find ways to help the Church keep up its presence in the lives of our people,” and he encouraged local Catholics to “drop a line to someone you know who is working to keep life going for us all. Thank a priest, deacon, or religious who continues to make themselves available for the mission of the Church.”
He concluded that column by noting, “There are lots of reasons to shout out ‘Alleluia,’ not just for the great gift of the Risen Lord, but for all of His people who serve in His name. Alleluia!”
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