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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. Brigid of Ireland.

📜 Today’s readings:  Heb 12:4-7, 11-15 ▪  Ps 103:1-2, 13-14, 17-18a ▪  Mk 6:1-6.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  An estimated 1 million Congolese people gathered Wednesday at Ndolo Airport for a papal Mass, which Pope Francis will follow with meetings with war victims and charity representatives (Italian full text).

2: Pope Francis urged economic powers to “stop choking Africa” as he addressed authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the first day of his visit (full text, photos, video, highlights).

3:  The 91-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen has been hospitalized following his trip to Rome for Benedict XVI’s funeral (Chinese blog post).

4: Mourners in Sydney have paid their last respects to Cardinal George Pell the day before his funeral, which is expected to be marked by protests.

5: Archbishop Georg Gänswein celebrated Mass at Benedict XVI’s tomb Tuesday, a month after the German pope’s death (Italian report, analysis).

6:  John Allen asks whether “in terms of turnout, if not census rolls, Catholicism today is largely an African enterprise” (ACI Africa report).  

7:  And a song composed by a Belgian priest when he was 15 has gone viral on TikTok (French report).

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Brand-new dioceses An uncommon item appeared on the Vatican’s daily Bollettino on Tuesday: Pope Francis created a new diocese and gave it its first bishop.

The pope erected the Diocese of Araguaína in the North Region of Brazil from territory previously belonging to the dioceses of Tocantinópolis and Miracema do Tocantins.

Why? Statistical information provided by the Holy See press office suggested an answer. With an area of roughly 14,000 square miles and a Catholic population of 215,794 people, the new diocese seems large enough to stand on its own two feet.

A rare event?  How often does this happen? According to, five new dioceses were established in 2022: in Ecuador, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, and Nigeria.

In 2021, there were just two (in Honduras and Venezuela), and in 2020, three (in Egypt, Nigeria, and Poland).

The rule of thumb seems to be that new dioceses are established where the local Church has a healthy and probably growing Catholic population, typically in the developing world.

That only a sprinkling of new dioceses are created each year seems to confirm that, overall, Catholicism is growing steadily but not explosively.

A Western trend  Meanwhile, there is a trend in Western Catholicism to unite two dioceses in persona episcopi (“in the person of the bishop”). This is a way of combining dioceses weakened by secularization but without the distress associated with diocesan mergers.

Recent examples include Cardiff and Menevia in Wales, and Clonfert and Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora in Ireland. It has become standard practice in Italy, a country blessed with a profusion of dioceses.

  • The development has its critics. “I question whether a bishop, charged with the responsibility for handling two dioceses, could be close enough to his people — close enough to have ‘the smell of the sheep’ that Pope Francis wants,” wrote Phil Lawler last April.

What’s next  Some observers believe that the in persona episcopi trend is preparing the way for a major consolidation of Western dioceses. While that might seem like a dry administrative matter, Catholics identify not only with their parishes but also (though probably to a lesser degree) with their dioceses. A big reorganization would be likely to have a significant impact on Catholic identity.

Meanwhile, the Vatican will continue creating a handful of new dioceses each year, but perhaps not enough to prevent an overall decline in numbers in the long term.

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

🇺🇸  EWTN has restructured its two U.S.-based news outlets (interview).

🇺🇾  Uruguay’s bishops have announced that Jacinto Vera, the first bishop of Montevideo, will be beatified May 6 (Spanish report).

🇨🇳  Chinese Bishop Shao Zhumin has been detained again, according to AsiaNews.

🇻🇦  Outgoing Dicastery for Bishops prefect Cardinal Marc Ouellet has said he hopes to further the work of the 2022 International Theological Symposium on the Priesthood in Rome.

🇩🇪  Germany’s bishops’ conference has announced that abuse survivors will be able to appeal compensation decisions (German announcement, report).

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿  Catholic schools in England and Wales are more diverse than the national average, according to new data.

🇫🇷  The French Senate is expected to scrutinize a bill Wednesday that would enshrine abortion in the country’s constitution.

🇬🇦  Gabon’s bishops have said that there are “clouds on the horizon” ahead of the country’s general election (French statement).

📅  Coming soon

Feb. 2  Requiem Mass and burial of Cardinal George Pell at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia. Pope Francis meets with young people and catechists in Martyrs’ Stadium, holds prayer meeting with priests, deacons, religious, and seminarians in Our Lady of the Congo Cathedral, attends private meeting with Jesuits at the apostolic nunciature in Kinshasa.

Feb. 3 Cardinal Domenico Calcagno turns 80.

Feb. 5  Europe’s continental synodal assembly begins in Prague, Czech Republic; Oceania’s continental synodal assembly starts in Suva, Fiji; Mass at Argentina’s Basilica of Our Lady of Luján marking 25 years since Cardinal Eduardo Pironio’s death.

Feb. 11  One-day conference with Bishop Robert Barron in London, England.

Feb. 12  The Middle East’s continental synodal assembly begins in Beirut, Lebanon.

Feb. 13  Continental phase regional assembly for the Central America-Mexico region begins in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Feb. 14  Episcopal ordination of Bishop-elect Patrick Neary in Saint Cloud, Minnesota; Release of report on abuse in Germany’s Diocese of Essen due to be published.

Feb. 20  Continental phase regional assembly for the Caribbean region begins in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Feb. 22  Ash Wednesday, Lent begins.

Feb. 25  Nigeria’s general election.

Feb. 26  Start of Roman Curia’s Lenten spiritual exercises.

Feb. 27  Continental phase regional assembly for the Bolivarian region begins in Quito, Ecuador.

Have a happy feast of St. Brigid of Ireland.
-- Luke

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