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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 saints:  Seven Founders of the Servite Order.

📜 Today’s readings:  Gn 11:1-9 ▪  Ps 33:10-11, 12-13, 14-15 ▪  Mk 8:34—9:1.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  In his 2023 Lenten message, Pope Francis has said that “the Lenten journey of penance and the journey of the Synod” have a similar goal.

2:  Vatican Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti is visiting earthquake-struck Turkey and Syria on Pope Francis’ behalf (Fr. Michael Zammit Mangion, S.J., Archbishop Joseph Tobji).

3:  The final document of the North American continental phase will continue to be drafted “over the next six weeks” (Bishop Daniel Flores).

4:  U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Timothy Broglio has said that Cardinal Angelo Sodano “always sought to do good,” but was wrong about Marcial Maciel (Spanish interview).

5:  Massimo Faggioli says that Pope Francis’ criticism of Germany’s synodal way as “elitist” was “striking for three reasons” (Magnus Striet).

6:  AFP reports on the “closet Catholics” of Kosovo.

7:  And Theresa Civantos Barber, Fr. Joe Laramie, S.J., Philip Kosloski, Michelle Martin, Fr. Jan K. Schmidt, and Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas offer advice for Lent.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Teacher for our time  Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, launched almost a year ago on Feb. 24, has had many unintended consequences. One of the more unexpected is what might be the most remarkable catechetical cycle of modern times.

Since the early days of the full-scale conflict, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk has issued daily addresses intended to bolster his Ukrainian Greek Catholic flock. As Russian troops advanced on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, he broadcast the video messages from a shelter beneath the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ.

After the immediate threat of being overrun (and assassinated) receded, Shevchuk continued to issue the daily rallying cries, but folded them into a systematic reflection on the truths of the Catholic faith.

By now, the broadcasts have a well-established structure. The 52-year-old Church leader begins with a review of the previous day’s destruction, thanking the country’s defenders for holding firm, and proclaiming that “Ukraine is standing! Ukraine is fighting! Ukraine is praying!” He then reflects on an aspect of the faith, from prayer to the priesthood, before concluding by invoking God’s blessing on Ukraine.

The messages are distributed in several languages by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Rome office and amplified by Ukrainian Catholic media and the news monitoring website Il Sismografo.

Bombs and beatitudes  The depth and brilliance of Shevchuk’s reflections have not gone unnoticed. In a pastoral letter last December, the Norwegian Bishop Erik Varden said that he had found “Christian joy” in the messages.

  • “He accounts for the ravages of war, consoles the sorrowful, grieves for the dead; but above all he speaks of our Christian calling in today’s world,” Varden said. “It is impressive to hear a bishop who, while bombs fall about him, expounds the beatitudes, urges us to be merciful, prays for enemies. Ukraine experiences destruction; and here is a bishop calling for the heart’s conversion and the galvanization of the will in order that a new, blessed, peaceful society may rise from the ruins.”

Varden added: “Archbishop Shevchuk’s preaching is unsentimental and realistic, but full of hope. Thus it vibrates with joy even in the midst of warfare. It expresses rock-solid trust in God.”

The daily messages are closely followed by Ukrainian Greek Catholics and others with an interest in the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. But they deserve a wider audience — and to be gathered one day, when the war is over, in book form.

What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.

🤔 Friday quiz

How well do you know your papal encyclicals? (Answers below).

1. The text commonly regarded as the first papal encyclical was published in…
A) 740; B) 1470; C) 1740.

2. How many encyclicals did Pope Leo XIII write on the rosary?
A) 3; B) 9; C) 12.

3. The record for the number of encyclicals published by a single pope is…
A) 85; B) 41; C) 32.

4. What was the first encyclical addressed to ‘all men of good will,’ rather than just Catholics?
A) Rerum novarum; B) Pacem in terris; C) Humanae vitae.

5. How many encyclicals has Pope Francis published?
A) 2; B) 3; C) 4.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  Eight recently freed Nicaraguan priests have celebrated Mass for the first time in six months following their expulsion to the United States.

🇳🇬  The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria has urged citizens to “vote for God-fearing, honest, vibrant, and transparent leaders” in the country’s general election.

🇷🇺  The Russian Orthodox Church has signed a memorandum committing itself to closer cooperation with the embattled Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

🇩🇪  Bishop Bertram Meier has explained why he signed a letter prompting the Vatican to block a proposed “synodal council” in Germany, saying that he wanted to know if the structure “corresponds to the Catholic understanding of the Church” (German report, video interview).

🇪🇸 The Archdiocese of Madrid has said it recorded 34 clerical abuse accusations in 2022 (Spanish report, statement).

🇵🇱  Poland’s bishops have called for a day of prayer for Ukraine on the Feb. 24 invasion anniversary (Polish statement).

🇻🇦  The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity has hosted a meeting on preparations to mark 850 years since the death of Armenia’s St. Nerses the Gracious.

📅  Coming soon

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. 24  Study of abuse in the Catholic Church in Mecklenburg, Germany, due to be published.

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.

Friday quiz answers (sources in links): 1. C; 2. C; 3. A; 4. B; 5. B.

Have a happy feast of the Seven Founders of the Servite Order.
-- Luke

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