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

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

😇 Today’s feast:  St. Sabas.

📜 Today’s readings:  Is 35:1-10  ▪  Ps 85:9ab & 10, 11-12, 13-14  ▪  Lk 5:17-26.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Malta’s bishops have expressed “profound concern” over a bill that would permit abortion.

2:  Jesuit artist Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik reportedly continues to face “precautionary” restrictions on his ministry after the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith closed a case against him in October (Italian report, English statement).

3:  The beatification cause of Neocatechumenal Way co-founder Carmen Hernández has officially opened (Spanish report).

4:  St. John Paul II’s brother Edmund Wojtyła could be a candidate for beatification under the “offering of life” category introduced by Pope Francis, a conference in Warsaw has heard (Polish report).

5:  Nicole Winfield suggests that the finance trial has “become a Pandora’s Box of unintended revelations about Vatican vendettas and scheming.”

6: Robert Mickens says that Pope Francis “seems to have changed” since undergoing surgery in July 2021 (John Allen, Stefano Caprio, Andrea Gagliarducci).

7:  And Catholic composer James MacMillan explains how he composed a piece for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🔄  Weekend round-up

On Saturday, Dec. 3, Pope Francis addressed donors of St. Peter’s Square’s Nativity scene and Christmas tree, which was lit up in the evening. He also blessed a Nativity scene in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, appointed a new adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for Evangelization, met with Niger’s president and others, and spoke to a group of disabled people on the International Day of People with Disabilities.

On Sunday, Dec. 4, the pope delivered his Angelus address, asking for the Virgin Mary’s intercession “for peace, especially for the tortured Ukrainian people.”

🧐  Look closer

A Catholic powerhouse  In recent years, Pope Francis has frequently visited countries where Catholics are a tiny minority. In September, he traveled to Kazakhstan, where Catholics account for only 1.3% of the population, and in November, he went to Bahrain, where they amount to 1%.

That pattern will change on Jan. 31, when he departs for Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on his 40th apostolic visit abroad.

The pope is due to spend four days in the nation described by Vatican watcher John Allen as “one of the world’s powerhouse Catholic nations.”

Punching below its weight  The DRC currently has the world’s 11th-largest Catholic population, ahead of Nigeria and Germany. But it is expected to rise up the table this century thanks to its growing population.

A papal visit is long overdue: the last pope to travel there was John Paul II, who made a two-day trip to Kinshasa 37 years ago, when the country was still called Zaire and led by autocrat Mobutu Sese Seko. Pope Francis intended to visit the DRC in July but was forced to reschedule for health reasons.

Despite being Africa’s largest Catholic country, the DRC arguably punches below its weight in the worldwide Church. It has just one representative in the College of Cardinals: Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, who succeeded Congolese Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya as a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals after Cardinal Monsengwo’s death in July 2021. No heads of Vatican dicasteries are from the DRC (or elsewhere in Africa).

But Pope Francis has celebrated Masses for Rome’s Congolese community and praised the Zairean Rite, calling it “the only inculturated rite of the Latin Church approved after the Second Vatican Council” and a model for other cultures.

‘Our nation is in danger!’  The pope originally planned to visit the eastern DRC city of Goma in July, but it has dropped off the papal itinerary. He will now meet with victims of violence from the troubled eastern region on the second day of his trip.

Organizers may have concluded that the eastern excursion would be too demanding for the almost 86-year-old pope. They were probably also concerned about the region’s deteriorating security situation.

Tens of thousands of Catholics took to the streets at the weekend after their bishops called for mass protests against a wave of violence by the rebel group M23, which the DRC says is backed by neighboring Rwanda. The UN estimates that escalating clashes have displaced around 390,000 people.

The bishops expressed alarm at a recent plenary meeting, saying: “Our nation is in danger! If we are not careful, we will wake up one morning with a balkanized country.”

Pope Francis is likely to cast an international spotlight on the conflict — however briefly — and for that reason alone many Congolese may consider his visit worth the wait.

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

🇺🇸  A Nebraska Catholic student center has received a shooting threat signed “Jane’s Revenge.”

🇭🇳  A Vatican investigation into Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga concerning the Catholic University of Honduras has “currently stalled,” reports Edward Pentin.

🇲🇲  Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has appealed for dialogue after the military raided his home village.

🇩🇪  Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, deputy chairman of Germany’s bishops’ conference, has defended his decision not to resign despite a report criticizing his handling of abuse cases (German report).

🇵🇱 A Dutch journalist based in Poland has claimed to have uncovered evidence that the future Pope John Paul II covered up abuse as archbishop of Kraków (Polish bishops’ statement, Polish report).

🇺🇦  Ukraine’s Latin Catholic bishops have issued a letter thanking the Polish Church for its solidarity amid the war.

🇫🇷  “City of Joy” author Dominique Lapierre has died at the age of 91.

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 7  Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington turns 75.

Dec. 8  Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; Pope Francis’ act of veneration of Mary Immaculate; Worldwide Women’s Rosary.

Dec. 10  Our Lady of Loreto; Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova due to meet Pope Francis.

Dec. 12  Our Lady of Guadalupe; Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s; 10th anniversary of first papal tweet.

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

Dec. 16  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  2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar ends.

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; Papal Angelus.

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. Sabas.

-- Luke

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