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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. Ambrose.

📜 Today’s readings:  Is 40:25-31  ▪  Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8 and 10  ▪  Mt 11:28-30.

🗓 Today’s anniversary: Anniversary of mathematician Fr. James Cullen’s death.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  The U.S. Catholic population has grown by 2 million in a decade and moved south, according to a new study.

2:  At this morning’s general audience, Pope Francis said that “the spiritual life is circular” and suggested that history is repeating itself in Ukraine (text, video, photos).

3:  Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich has said that “about half” of Synodal Process submissions called for women deacons and “a small proportion” spoke of women priests (German report).

4:  Pope Francis has thanked Bishop Daniel Flores and the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, for supporting immigrants (Spanish letter).

5:  JD Flynn says there is “surprise - and confusion” among canon lawyers over the Vatican’s handling of the Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik scandal (Elise Ann Allen, Fr. Gianfranco Matarazzo S.J.,, Ludwig Ring-Eifel, Nicole Winfield, Fr. Miran Žvanut).

6:  Elisha Valladares-Cormier argues that the demise of diocesan newspapers will “weaken the Church’s ability to catechize, inform and evangelize.”

7:  And luxury sports car maker Ferrari is helping to restore a Cimabue fresco in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Joy in Juba  Pope Francis became the first pontiff to fly into an active war zone in 2015, when he visited the conflict-ravaged Central African Republic.

The Vatican confirmed last week that he will visit another African state suffering from protracted conflict: South Sudan. The pope will make a long-awaited and often-delayed visit to the country’s capital, Juba, on Feb. 3-5, 2023.

War and peace  South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, officially proclaimed independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011. But it was quickly engulfed by a civil war that raged for six years.

The Catholic Church was heavily involved in peace talks, with the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio taking the lead. Pope Francis famously kissed the feet of South Sudan’s formerly warring leaders when they attended a retreat at the Vatican in 2019.

The peace process is continuing — and frequently faltering. Last month, South Sudan’s government announced that it was suspending its participation, accusing opposition groups of “lacking commitment.”

According to the World Bank, the country is still suffering from “a serious humanitarian crisis,” with two-thirds of its 11.4 million population requiring assistance.

‘We come as servants’  The pope’s South Sudan trip — which immediately follows a papal visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo — will have an unprecedented ecumenical dimension.

Francis will be accompanied by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland  —  the spiritual leaders of the country’s other major Christian denominations  — on a visit billed as an “Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Peace.”

  • “We come as servants: together we share a deep desire to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan in their suffering, to review and renew the commitments its leaders made at the Vatican in 2019,” said Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury since 2013.

Shedding light  The trip is likely to present two major challenges. The first is a test of Pope Francis’ health. The visit was originally scheduled for July, but the pope postponed it on doctor’s orders. He will be 86 in February and his limited mobility will complicate the intercontinental trip.

The second obstacle is continuing violence. Sr. Elena Balatti, a missionary in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, told Fides this week that “very heavy” fighting had forced thousands to flee. The clashes between armed factions are taking place hundreds of miles away from Juba, so the papal trip is unlikely to be affected, but they may cast a shadow over the visit.

Sr. Elena said she hoped that the trip would “shed light on situations such as the one we are experiencing here in the Upper Nile on which the international press is silent.”

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

🇺🇦  Knights of Columbus leader Patrick E. Kelly has visited the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kyiv (Italian report, Ukrainian report).

🇩🇪  The chairman of a commission investigating abuse in Germany’s Cologne archdiocese has resigned (German report).

🇬🇧  U.K. lawmakers have announced a new inquiry on assisted suicide.

🇲🇹 Bartholomew I has become the first Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to visit Malta.

🇻🇦  Vatican archivist Johan Ickx has criticized David Kertzer’s new book on wartime pope Pius XII (German report).

🇷🇼 Cardinal Antoine Kambanda has been elected president of Rwanda’s bishops’ conference.

🇧🇷  Brazilian fans have prayed outside a hospital where 82-year-old soccer superstar Pelé is undergoing treatment.

📅  Coming soon

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 Čaputová 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; Austria’s bishops begin ad limina visit.

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  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. Ambrose.

-- Luke

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