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Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily newsletter.

I’m Luke Coppen and I seek to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.

😇 Today’s feast:  St. Lucy.

📜 Today’s readings:  Zep 3:1-2, 9-13  ▪  Ps 34:2-3, 6-7, 17-18, 19 & 23  ▪  Mt 21:28-32.

🗓 Today’s anniversary: 53 years since Pope Francis’ priestly ordination.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Pope Francis has written to world leaders asking for a “gesture of clemency” toward prisoners before Christmas.

2:  The pope said that Our Lady of Guadalupe is “in the midst of the caravans that walk northward in search of freedom and well-being” at a Dec. 12 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica (Bishop Mark J. Seitz).

3:  Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich has said that a corruption scandal has done “enormous damage” to the EU Parliament’s reputation (German interview, English report).

4:  Synod official Sr. Nathalie Becquart has said that women priests are not an open question “for the Catholic Church at this moment, from an official point of view.”

5:  Cardinal Wilton Gregory notes that many Catholics “have no firsthand knowledge of what prompted the need for the issuance of Nostra aetate.”

6:  Solène Tadié explains why the French bishops have created a national canonical criminal court.

7:  And Paul Elie argues that “a rich variety of evidence suggests that Catholicism isn’t on the wane; it’s just changing.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Ten years of tweets  On Dec. 12, 2012, a writer predicted, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that future generations of theologians would look back on the day “with a mixture of awe and reverence.”

  • “For on the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of the millennium, Pope Benedict XVI made his foray on to Twitter,” intoned Stuart Heritage.

Yet he dismissed the German pope’s long-awaited inaugural tweet as “a little bit rubbish.”

  • Benedict, who sent the tweet from an iPad in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, wrote: “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”

Months later, Benedict resigned, handing over the @Pontifex account to his successor with a farewell tweet, after which his posts were removed and archived.

The Vatican chose to mark the 10th anniversary in a low-key fashion — via a tweet from Pope Francis.

  • “Thank you to all who follow me on this account which was opened 10 years ago to proclaim the joy of the Gospel,” he wrote. “Let us continue to build up this network as a free space to promote encounter and dialogue and to value what unites us.”

The pope’s followers  Ten years after its debut tweet, the account’s nine language channels — English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, Polish, Arabic, and Latin — have 53.5 million combined followers, reported L’Osservatore Romano. (Each papal account only follows the eight others.)

  • “From January to the present, the account has grown by 800,000 more users than last year. The Spanish, Portuguese and Italian accounts have seen the most significant growth,” it said.

To put the pope’s follower count in perspective, he has more (in total) than LeBron James and Shakira, but fewer than Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

Generating most engagement are papal appeals for an end to the war in Ukraine, followed by messages of solidarity with countries affected by conflicts and disasters.

The pope’s writers Pope Francis does not, however, spend hours crafting tweets. That is the job of Vatican officials, who often schedule them days in advance.

  • “Vatican employees also decide what hashtags to use, which recently led to a comic mishap,” wrote Claire Giangravé in 2019. “In an Oct. 13 tweet thanking God for new #Saints, the Pontifex account accidentally pulled in associated emoji for the hashtag — that of the New Orleans Saints football team, which on the same day happened to win a decisive game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

Friends in high places  Pope Francis met with Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, in July, after the South Africa-born billionaire had begun the acquisition process but before he completed it.

Musk interacted on Oct. 2 with a papal tweet calling for peace in Ukraine, observing that “war always gives ample reason for vengeance for all sides” and “only by overcoming this instinct can there be peace.”

Ten years on, @Pontifex is firmly established — and, if there are any problems, the pope seems to have a hotline to the top of Twitter Towers.

What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸 The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced the closure of four churches by Jan. 23 (press release).

🇮🇱 The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL) has said that “Christian schools in Israel are, once again, on the brink of a crisis.”

🇻🇦  Austrian Church leaders discussed secularization with Vatican officials on the first day of their ad limina visit (German press release).

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿  Scotland’s bishops have said that the U.K. Supreme Court’s endorsement of abortion clinic buffer zones “fails to protect basic freedoms of expression and freedom of assembly.”

🇺🇦  Pope Francis has expressed “deep sorrow” at the death of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk’s father.

🇩🇪  German Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck has said that animals and plants should be accorded their own legal status (German report, press release).

🇮🇹  German Br Michael Schöpf has been named the new international director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 14 Episcopal ordination of Bishop-elect Peter Collins of East Anglia, England.

Dec. 16  Vatican press conference presenting Pope Francis’ 2023 World Day of Peace message; Anniversary of Naples’ preservation from the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, associated with the liquefaction of St. Januarius’ blood.

Dec. 17  Pope Francis’ 86th birthday.

Dec. 18  FIFA World Cup in Qatar ends.

Dec. 21  Cardinal Matteo Zuppi presides at prayer vigil for peace at the tomb of St. Nicholas in Bari, Italy.

Dec. 22  Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, turns 75.

Dec. 24 Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord at 7:30 p.m. Rome time.

Dec. 25  Pope gives Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) at noon.

Dec. 26  St. Stephen.

Dec. 28  Pope Francis expected to publish apostolic letter marking 400 years since St. Francis de Sales’ death.

Dec. 29  Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga turns 80.

Dec. 30  Feast of the Holy Family.

Dec. 31  Pope presides at Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Have a happy feast of St. Lucy.

-- Luke

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Editor’s note: This post originally referred to the U.S. priest Msgr. Daniel B. Gallagher. He is no longer a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord and now works at Cornell University. Apologies for the error.