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 readings: Gn 8:6-13, 20-22 ▪ Ps 116:12-13, 14-15, 18-19 ▪ Mk 8:22-26.
🗞 Starting seven
3: The beatification of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, who were killed by Nazis for helping Jews alongside their seven children, will take place on Sept. 10, 2023, in their home village of Markowa (Polish statement).
4: The pope would like to visit Moscow to discuss a peace plan with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Leonid Sevastianov, president of the World Union of Old Believers (Italian report, Russian report).
🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino
Fr. Cleophas Oseso Tuka named bishop of the Diocese of Nakuru, Kenya.
Fr. Marcelo Antônio da Silva appointed an auxiliary bishop of Santo Amaro, Brazil.
Fr. Michel Jalakh, O.A.M., named secretary of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches.
Notice of a Vatican press conference on Feb. 17 presenting Pope Francis’ 2023 Lenten message.
🧐 Look closer
The Ethiopian schism The Kingdom of Aksum, based in modern-day Ethiopia, adopted Christianity as a state religion in the 4th century. Unlike other African Christian communities, it endured amid the expansion of the Islamic world and the upheavals of the following centuries.
But the EOTC is now facing a profound threat to its unity.
The three archbishops and 25 bishops — who formed a body known as the Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities — responded on Jan. 28 by excommunicating the Holy Synod’s members.
Archbishop Abune Sawiros, one of the three archbishops, argued that the episcopal appointments were necessary because the Church had failed to serve believers in their native languages and with cultural sensitivity, resulting in the loss of “millions” of faithful in recent years.
On Feb. 4, clashes broke out at a church in the Oromia region’s West Arsi Zone during a reception ceremony for clergy appointed by the breakaway group. An eyewitness told the Addis Standard news magazine that a confrontation between protesters and police “claimed the lives of many people.”
On Feb. 5, Ethiopia’s federal government called for the dispute to be “resolved peacefully and through internal channels.”
Why it matters Why should this be of interest to Catholics? Because the EOTC occupies a significant position within the Christian world.
“Once the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, referred to EOTC as a state,” wrote the scholar Desta Heliso. “This is metaphorical, of course, but it is an accurate description in terms of the church’s size. With an estimated membership of between 40 and 50 million people, EOTC is comparable to the population of the state of Kenya or Uganda.”
Rome is likely to be following the crisis with concern as the EOTC is an ecumenical partner. When Pope Francis met with the Church’s leader, Pope Abuna Matthias I, at the Vatican in 2016, he underlined the Catholic Church in Ethiopia’s readiness to work alongside the EOTC.
“May the Holy Spirit continue to enlighten us and guide our steps towards harmony and peace,” the pope said. “May he nourish in us the hope that one day, with God’s help, we will be united around the altar of Christ’s sacrifice in the fullness of Eucharistic communion.”
If the schism within the EOTC is not healed, then broader Christian unity may become an even more distant and complicated possibility.
🔍 Stories to watch
🇦🇹 Austria’s bishops have called for a nationwide day of “prayer, fasting, and solidarity” on Feb. 24, the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine (German report).
📅 Coming soon
Feb. 16 Verdict due in the cases of Catholics arrested for silent prayer within an English abortion “censorship zone.”
Feb. 20 Continental phase regional assembly for the Caribbean region begins in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Feb. 25 Nigeria’s general election.
Feb. 26 Start of Roman Curia’s Lenten spiritual exercises.
Have a happy feast of St. Claude La Colombière.
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