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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.

I’m sorry if yesterday’s Starting Seven arrived late in your inbox. It was due to a technical glitch which we hope is now resolved.

😇 Today’s feast:  Ash Wednesday.

📜 Today’s readings:  Jl 2:12-18 ▪  Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17 ▪  2 Cor 5:20—6:2 ▪  Mt 6:1-6, 16-18.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  At today’s general audience, Pope Francis said that the Holy Spirit is “the engine of evangelization” and the Gospel is not “a political party, an ideology, a club” (full text, photos, video, Reuters report).

2:  Vatican “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said that the Ukraine war “seems an impossible fact for the 21st century” as he celebrated a Mass marking the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion (Italian report).

3:  The Vatican Secretariat of State has published online its full archive of materials related to the Jewish people during the Holocaust era.

4:  Four delegates have withdrawn from the German synodal way, saying that “the Church in Germany is distancing itself more and more from the universal Church” (German statement, report).

5:  A new initiative is seeking to have a million Masses said for the preservation of the Traditional Latin Mass by Pentecost Sunday (Una Voce International).

6:  John Allen says that the end of the Vatican’s “trial of the century” is in sight (Andrea Gagliarducci).

7:  And Pope Francis, Fr. Edward Kolla, Pat Marrin, Caroline Perkins, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Bishop Erik Varden, and Katie Warner offer Lenten advice.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Boom to bust?  South Korea is often cited as an example of a country with a dynamic Catholic Church. Catholicism’s growth in South Korea has been described as “explosive” and a model for other Catholic communities.

In 1995, the East Asian nation was home to 2,885,000 Catholics. A decade later, in 2005, that had risen to 5,015,000.

South Korean missionary priests have begun to make their mark around the world. Seoul Archbishop Peter Chung said last year that South Korean Catholicism had been transformed from a “Church that welcomes” to a “Church that gives.”

By 2017, the local Church reported that more than 5,000 native Koreans were actively serving as priests. But new official figures suggest the boom may be over.

‘A virtual standstill’  South Korean Church authorities have reported that the number of newly ordained priests fell from 131 in 2011 to 87 in 2023, a drop of 35%.

UCA News noted that the overall number of Catholics in South Korea was still growing, rising from 5,442,996 in 2013 to 5,938,045 in 2023, out of a total population of almost 52 million.

  • “However, due to the declining number of new priests, each priest needs to serve more Catholics,” it said. “The average number of Catholics per parish priest rose from 1,174 in 2011 to 1,283 in 2021.”

UCA News suggested that a low birthrate and “indifference to religion” were to blame.

Other publications have also detected signs of a loss of vitality. AsiaNews reported in 2022 that “the impetuous growth of the Korean Catholic community seems to have come to a virtual standstill, hindered by COVID-19, but also by demographic decline and the social transformations that the new generations are experiencing in Seoul.”

The news agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) cited figures suggesting that annual Catholic growth in South Korea fell to 0.2% in 2021, “compared to 3% just a few years ago.”

Still the future?  Pope Francis has reportedly said that “the future of the Church is in Asia.” But parts of the continent may be following the pattern of Western Europe, with aging congregations and declining priestly vocations.

These changes are likely to be discussed intensively when representatives of the continent’s diverse Catholic communities meet in Bangkok, Thailand, on Feb. 23-27 for the Asian synodal continental assembly.

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

🇺🇸  Bishops’ conference president Archbishop Timothy Broglio has urged the U.S. government to “continue to pursue the release” of Nicaragua’s Bishop Rolando Álvarez.

🇩🇰  Priests in Denmark have remained in active ministry “despite convictions or fines for sexual crimes or detailed accusations of abusive behavior towards children and young people,” the Danish daily Berlingske has reported.

🇳🇱  Vandals have struck at a recently restored church in the Dutch municipality of Etten-Leur (Dutch report, AC Wimmer).

🇱🇰  Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has described a decision to postpone local elections as “totalitarian” and “anti-democratic.”

🇳🇬  Nigerian Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo has said that Christians must resist the selling and buying of votes in Lent, which coincides with the country’s general election (Fr. Justine John Dyikuk).

🇧🇮  Authorities in Burundi have asked the Vatican to apologize for the Church’s role in the country’s colonization (French report).

🇨🇩  Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu has said that “everything suggests that the future of the Church is in Africa” (French full text, James Bradshaw).

📅  Coming soon

Feb. 23  The Asian synodal continental assembly begins in Bangkok, Thailand.

Feb. 24  First anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine; Ireland’s Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Abuse; Study of abuse in the Catholic Church in Mecklenburg, Germany, due to be published.

Feb. 25  Nigeria’s general election.

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

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

Feb. 28  George Weigel gives the 21st Annual William E. Simon Lecture on “What Ukraine means.”

March 1  The Africa synodal continental assembly begins in Addis Ababa.

March 3  Portugal’s bishops hold extraordinary plenary assembly to reflect on independent abuse report; Diocese of Mainz abuse report released.

March 4 Flame Congress takes place in London, England, featuring Cardinal Tagle.

March 6  Continental phase regional assembly for the Southern Cone region begins in Brazil.

March 9 Fifth and final synodal assembly of Germany’s synodal way begins; Cardinal Michael Czerny speaks at Gonzaga University.

March 10  Members of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) celebrate Masses for peace in Ukraine.

March 13 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election.

Have a good Ash Wednesday.
-- Luke

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