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).
7: And a song composed by a Belgian priest when he was 15 has gone viral on TikTok (French report).
🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino
Fr. Paolo Andreolli, S.X., appointed an auxiliary bishop of Belém do Pará archdiocese, Brazil.
🧐 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.
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.
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.
🔍 Stories to watch
🇻🇦 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.
🇫🇷 The French Senate is expected to scrutinize a bill Wednesday that would enshrine abortion in the country’s constitution.
📅 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. 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. 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.
Have a happy feast of St. Brigid of Ireland.
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