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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. Adelaide.

📜 Today’s readings:  Is 56:1-3a, 6-8  ▪  Ps 67:2-3, 5, 7-8  ▪  Jn 5:33-36.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  In his 2023 World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis has said that “a terrible new disaster befell humanity” after the pandemic (press conference texts).

2:  A record 12.5 million pilgrims have visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in recent days.

3:  Catholic archbishops have expressed their “deepest sympathies” after an Irish peacekeeper was killed in southern Lebanon.

4:  Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich has said that the synod on synodality is “not a synod about homosexuality” or “a synod about polygamy.”

5: Nicole Winfield says that the Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik scandal has “exposed two main weaknesses in the Holy See’s abuse policies” (Pillar explainer, ACI Prensa, America podcast, La Croix).

6: The Diocese of Essen has won a German Design Award for its new logo (German press release, video).

7: And Zac Davis says that “the Church has been in the mix at nearly every major turning point in the history of wine.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Apologizing to Russia  When America magazine published an interview with Pope Francis on Nov. 28, attention focused initially on his remarks about polarization, women priests, and China. But one line on another topic provoked a full-blown diplomatic incident.

Asked about his “seeming unwillingness to directly criticize Russia for its aggression against Ukraine,” the pope said that he had received “much information” about the cruelty of invading troops.

  • “Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on,” he said, referring to two of the Russian Federation’s more than 190 ethnic groups.

‘One family’  The pope’s comments prompted a swift backlash in Russia. Figures including foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, the spiritual leader of Russian Buddhists, and Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov weighed in.

  • “This is no longer Russophobia,” declared foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, “it’s a perversion on a level I can’t even name.”

The pope struck a nerve because Russia prides itself on being a melting pot and is ever alert to the threat of fragmentation along ethnic lines. Sensitivities are especially high as the Ukraine war is straining relations between Moscow and the country’s ethnic republics because of perceptions that mobilization is disproportionately affecting minorities.

As Zakharova suggested, the pope’s comments were seen as an attack on the idea that “we are one family with Buryats, Chechens, and other representatives of our multinational and multi-confessional country.”

‘A strong act’  Aleksandr Avdeev, Russia’s ambassador to the Holy See, lodged a formal protest on the day the interview was published.

Earlier this week, Zakharova complained that the Holy See had failed to apologize for the papal remark. She added that Russia no longer saw the Vatican as an appropriate place for peace negotiations. But on Dec. 15, Zakharova abruptly changed her tune.

  • She announced that Russia had just received a statement saying: “The Vatican Secretariat of State apologizes to the Russian side. The Holy See has the utmost respect for all peoples of Russia, their dignity, faith, and culture, as well as for other countries and peoples of the world.”

She praised the gesture, which was later confirmed by a Vatican spokesman, and said that “this incident is over and we hope that we will continue constructive cooperation with the Vatican.”

Alexey Tsydenov, leader of the Republic of Buryatia, described the apology as a “strong act” and noted that “without the consent of the pope himself this would not have happened.”

Potential backlash  The Vatican’s apology was most likely aimed at preserving its possible role in peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv. But it has raised eyebrows.

Luis Badilla, editorial director of Il Sismografo, suggested that the move was unprecedented and would puzzle many Catholics and others.

  • “At this point, one also has to wonder what the Ukrainians who have been suffering the consequences of this cruelty for 10 months are thinking,” he wrote.

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

🤔 Friday quiz

How much do you know about the “O Antiphons”? (Answers below).

1. How many O Antiphons are there?
A)  3; B) 7; C) 40.

2. When are the O Antiphons used?
A)  The first days of Advent; B) The last days of Advent; C) The first days of Christmastide.

3. When are they thought to date back to?
A)  6th century; B) 10th century; C) 13th century.

4. Which hymn paraphrases the O Antiphons?
A)  “O Come, All Ye Faithful”; B) “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”; C) “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

5. Which of these composers has set the O Antiphons to music?
A)  J.S. Bach; B) Antonio Vivaldi; C) Arvo Pärt.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇻🇪  Thieves have targeted Venezuela’s Cardinal Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo in the capital Caracas (Spanish report).

🇵🇪  Peru’s bishops have called for a day of prayer for peace amid a state of emergency (Spanish report).

🇦🇷  Opus Dei is opening a new office in Argentina dedicated to addressing cases of alleged labor exploitation (Spanish report).

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿  Anglican and Catholic archbishops in Wales have issued their first joint Christmas message.

🇧🇾  Belarus’ new foreign minister has said that his country and the Holy See have “built successful cooperation in various areas,” but “there is still a lot of work to be done” (Archbishop Ante Jozić).

🇵🇭 Three homemade bombs have been defused at two Catholic churches in the Mindanao region of the Philippines.

🇬🇭  The president of Ghana’s bishops’ conference has said that he was not contacted for a CNN report on “how U.S. and European aid benefited churches that oppose LGBTQI+ rights.”

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 17  Pope Francis’ 86th birthday.

Dec. 18  Spanish newspaper ABC publishes papal interview. 2022 FIFA World Cup Final in Qatar.

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.

Friday quiz answers: 1. B; 2. B; 3. A; 4. C; 5. C.  Source: Wikipedia.

Have a happy feast of St. Adelaide.

-- Luke

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There will be no Starting Seven on Monday, Dec. 19, but normal service should resume on Tuesday, Dec. 20.

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