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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. John of Kanty.

📜 Today’s readings:  Mal 3:1-4, 23-24  ▪  Ps 25:4-5ab, 8-9, 10 & 14  ▪  Lk 1:57-66.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Slovenia’s Catholic bishops have condemned Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik’s “acts of emotional, sexual, and spiritual violence,” but praised “his extraordinary spiritual and artistic accomplishments” (English full text, The Pillar, CNA, Christopher Altieri, Diane Montagna, Urška Mlinarič, Renovabis, Luisella Scrosati, Silere non possum).

2:  Christians in the Holy Land have “increasingly faced assaults on their free exercise of religion,” the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem have said in their Christmas message.

3:  Cardinal Matteo Zuppi has said that “peace is not a dream” while leading prayers for an end to the Ukraine war at Bari’s Basilica of St. Nicholas (Italian report, interview, prayer booklet).

4:  German bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing has said that Pope Francis is “clearly a reformer,” while deputy chairman Bishop Franz-Josef Bode has expressed disappointment at the pope’s reform efforts (German report).

5:  Ross Douthat suggests that “the ‘post-Christian’ label fits the overall trend in American spirituality more than it did a decade ago” (NYT).

6:  Fr. Justin Glyn, S.J., says that Catholics with disabilities are “neither icons nor warnings.”

7:  And Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, who will spend Christmas in Central Europe, says “our annual celebration reminds us not to take divine gifts for granted.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Severing a lifeline  The only road connecting Armenia to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has been blocked since Dec. 12.

The blockage of the Lachin corridor means that essential goods cannot reach tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave within Azerbaijan, prompting fears of a humanitarian crisis.

Catholic leaders are among those sounding the alarm. Germany’s Bishop Bertram Meier appealed on Thursday for a “powerful diplomatic effort for a speedy end to the blockade.”

What happened? Azerbaijani activists shut down the road in protest at what they claim is illegal mining at sites controlled by de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh. They allege that mineral deposits are being illegally transported to Armenia via the Lachin road.

The Armenian government accuses Azerbaijani authorities of instigating the demonstration, while Azerbaijan insists that it was spontaneous and reports of a blockade are “fake news.”

Russian peacekeepers, who have guarded the road since the 2020 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, have erected barricades to prevent protesters from advancing toward the mines.

Azerbaijan is more than 99% Muslim, while around 97% of Armenians belong to the ancient Armenian Apostolic Church. (There is also a small but dynamic Armenian Catholic Church, led by Patriarch Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian, based in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.)

Who’s speaking out?  Pope Francis addressed the Lachin corridor immediately after reciting the Angelus last Sunday.

  • “I am particularly concerned about the precarious humanitarian conditions of the population which risk further deterioration during the course of the winter season,” he said in his Dec. 18 address. “I ask everyone involved to commit themselves to finding peaceful solutions for the good of the people.”

Catholicos Karekin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, has described the blockage as a “provocation” launched “under false pretenses.”

The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) have also spoken out, as have U.S. Armenian organizations.

What’s next  Religious leaders’ statements will add to growing international pressure for a swift resolution to the dispute. The longer the corridor remains blocked, the more likely Nagorno-Karabakh residents are to suffer from a lack of food, fuel, and medicines as winter bites and they prepare for Christmas.

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

Can you fill in the blanks in this recap of 2022? (Answers below).

1. On Jan. 21, the pope named St. ___ of ___ a Doctor of the Church.

2. Pope Francis canceled a Feb. 27 trip to the Italian city of ___ due to acute knee pain.

3. On March 19, the pope issued the long-awaited Vatican constitution ___ ___.

4. In April, Pope Francis made a two-day trip to the island country of ___.

5. The pope canonized French explorer ___ de ___ on May 15.

6. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, the Solemnity of the ___ ___.

7. On July 25, the pope offered a historic apology to Canada’s ___ peoples.

8. U.S. Bishop ___ W. ___ received the cardinal’s red hat at a consistory in Rome on Aug. 27.

9. On Sept. 3, Pope Francis promulgated the new constitution of the ___ of ___.

10. On Oct. 15, security officers in  ___ arrested the Catholic Bishop Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim.

11. Archbishop ___ P. ___ was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Nov. 15.

12. On Dec. 7, U.S. Cardinal ___ D. ___ turned 75.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  Massachusetts’ highest court has ruled that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide.

🇲🇽  Catholics and Jews will provide 40,000 Christmas dinners for the poor in Mexico’s Guadalajara metropolitan area.

🇳🇬  Fr. Mark Ojotu has become the third priest to be kidnapped in Nigeria in five days (Italian report).

🇲🇼  Malawi is “quickly turning into a failed state,” the country’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace has said.

🇺🇦 Papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski will spend Christmas in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv (Italian interview).

🇧🇪  The number of people seeking euthanasia in Belgium continues to rise year-on-year, according to newly published figures (French report, full text).

🇫🇷  French bishops’ conference president Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort has said that “we need to review our entire pastoral organization, based on a territorial network that we will not be able to maintain in the future” (French report, full text).

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 24 Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord at 7:30 p.m. Rome time (booklet); Election of new Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus.

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

Dec. 26  Feast of St. Stephen.

Dec. 28  Pope Francis expected to publish apostolic letter marking 400 years since St. Francis de Sales’ death; The Taizé Community’s European Meeting begins in Rostock, Germany.

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 at 5 p.m. for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Jan. 1  Pope celebrates Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica at 10 a.m., and prays the Angelus at noon; Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva sworn in as Brazil’s president; Fr. Mike Schmitz’s “Catechism in a Year” podcast begins.

Friday quiz answers: 1: Irenaeus (of) Lyon; 2. Florence; 3. Praedicate Evangelium; 4. Malta; 5. Charles (de) Foucauld; 6. Sacred Heart; 7. Indigenous; 8. Robert (W.) McElroy; 9. Order (of) Malta; 10. Eritrea; 11. Timothy (P.) Broglio; 12. Wilton (D.) Gregory.

This is the last Starting Seven of 2022. A big thank you to everyone who has supported this newsletter since its launch on Oct. 4. The next Starting Seven will be on Jan. 2, 2023.

-- Luke

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