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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 saint: St. Claude La Colombière (Roman Martyrology).

📜 Today’s readings:  Gn 8:6-13, 20-22 ▪  Ps 116:12-13, 14-15, 18-19 ▪  Mk 8:22-26.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Pope Francis said at his Wednesday general audience that “the apostolic Church is completely missionary, and it finds its unity in the mission” (text, photos, video).

2:  Brazil’s Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná has revoked an honorary doctorate it awarded to Fr. Marko Rupnik on Nov. 30, 2022 (Portuguese statement).

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).

5:  Ed Condon says that declaring bankruptcy is no “easy way out” for U.S. dioceses facing compensation claims (map).

6:  Cardinal Peter Ebere Okpaleke names three reasons why Nigeria has the world’s highest Mass attendance.

7:  And Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer has dedicated a Eucharistic chapel that will be open 24/7 at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  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.

The patrimony of Ethiopian Christians — who trace their origins to the mission of St. Matthew — is impressive. Their churches are famous for their vivid iconography, liturgical dance, and chants.

The majority of the country’s Christians belong to the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), the largest member of the communion known as the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

But the EOTC is now facing a profound threat to its unity.

What’s happening  On Jan. 26, the EOTC’s Holy Synod excommunicated three archbishops for the “illegal anointment” of 25 bishops, principally for the dioceses of Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

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.

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🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  The Diocese of Winona-Rochester has said that Bishop Robert Barron has “no intention of eliminating the celebration” of the Traditional Latin Mass (full statement).

🇳🇮  Jailed Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez is being held in inhumane conditions, according to anonymous Catholic sources (Spanish report).

🇱🇧  Speaking in Beirut, Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa has said that “there is no longer a peaceful status quo” in Jerusalem.

🇦🇪  An estimated 150,000 people have taken part in the synodal process in the vicariates of Southern Arabia and Northern Arabia.

🇦🇹  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).

🇮🇹  A new book-length interview with Pope Francis will be released in Italy on Feb. 21 (Italian report).

🇧🇪  The Belgian Diocese of Liège is raising funds to install a contemporary organ in Liège Cathedral (French 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. 22  Ash Wednesday; Pope Francis presides at Mass at Rome’s Basilica of St. Sabina at 4:30 p.m. local time.

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. Claude La Colombière.
-- Luke

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