Skip to content

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 saint: St. Evetius (Roman Martyrology).

📜 Today’s readings:  Is 58:1-9a ▪  Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19 ▪  Mt 9:14-15.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Thousands of mourners are expected to attend the March 3 funeral of the slain Bishop David O’Connell at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Tom Hoffarth, Christina Merino & Clara Harter).

2:  Pope Francis may visit Hungary at the end of April, according to local media reports (Hungarian report, Italian report).

3:  Bishop Georg Bätzing, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, @Pontifex, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and Andrea Tornielli mark the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

4:  Michael Haynes asks why Pope Francis released the new motu proprio “Il diritto nativo” (Italian full text, AP, Maria Antonietta Calabrò, Crux).

5:  Fr. Thomas Berg suggests there is “a kind of practical agnosticism about truth” in calls for “the Church to modify its ‘policy’ on X, Y or Z sexual issue” (Deacon Tracy Jamison, J.D. Long-García, Archbishop Hervé Giraud, Cardinal Robert McElroy, Michael Sean Winters).

6:  Fr. Brian McCoy, S.J., marks the 50th anniversary of the first Australian Aboriginal Liturgy.

7:  And the trailer for “The Pope’s Exorcist,” with Russell Crowe playing Fr. Gabriele Amorth, is generating backlash online.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

What the war wrought  Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, changed the world not only in political and economic terms, but also on a religious level.

The war between the two predominantly Orthodox Christian nations has reshaped Eastern Orthodoxy. It has also strained relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church, underlined the limitations of 21st-century papal diplomacy, and raised the global profile of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome.  

A year on, how do things stand?

Orthodox realignment  A war launched on the pretext of reuniting Orthodox believers in Russia and Ukraine, who trace their roots to the baptism of Vladimir the Great, has driven them further apart.

The past year has seen Ukrainian parishes shifting their alignment from the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP) to the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).

The position of the UOC-MP seems increasingly precarious following a series of raids by Ukrainian security services and public discussion of whether the Church’s activities should be banned outright.

Rome-Moscow tensions  The support of Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill for the invasion dismayed Vatican officials who had spent years trying to narrow the gulf between Rome and the Moscow Patriarchate.

Virtual talks between Pope Francis and the patriarch in March 2022 failed to bring both sides closer. Russian Orthodox officials took offense at Francis’ remark in a May interview that the patriarch should not be Vladimir Putin’s “altar boy.” Two attempts to arrange a face-to-face meeting between the pope and Kirill fell through.

Although Moscow-Rome relations seem to have reached a nadir, Catholic Moscow Archbishop Paolo Pezzi recently suggested that a pope-patriarch summit was still possible. He also noted that local Catholic-Russian Orthodox meetings have “increased lately.”

A diplomatic stress test  Pope Francis has made more than 100 public appeals for peace since the full-scale invasion, most recently at his Wednesday general audience, where he called for a cease-fire.

The pope’s interventions have, at different times, upset both Ukrainians and Russians, while producing no major breakthroughs. His oft-expressed desire to visit both Kyiv and Moscow has so far come to nothing. The conflict has subjected Holy See diplomacy to a stress test, with several commentators suggesting it has exposed inadequacies.

But papal diplomacy has achieved some tangible results. Francis has helped hundreds of prisoners of war to return home. He has also overseen the delivery of aid to Ukraine through the papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.  

A global Church  Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church leader Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk has emerged as a major figure, thanks to his articulate daily addresses and tireless advocacy for the Ukrainian population.

  • “He has remained at his post as Kyiv has been bombed time and again by the aggressors, maintaining a rigorous schedule of prayer and liturgical worship that demonstrates his determination, and that of his entire Church, to maintain a spiritual life of praise, worship, and intercession under the most challenging conditions,” wrote George Weigel.

Waves of refugees have also strengthened diaspora Ukrainian Greek Catholic communities, which are likely to have a rising influence in the societies in which they have taken root.

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 much do you know about Catholicism and elephants? (Answers below).

1. Which Vatican cardinal recently lay in the path of an elephant in a circus act known as “the passage of death”?
A) Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer; B) Cardinal Konrad Krajewski; C) Cardinal Arthur Roche.

2. Which pope owned an elephant?
A) Leo V; B) Leo X; C) Leo XIII.

3. What was the papal elephant’s name?
A) Jumbo; B) Dumbo; C) Hanno.

4. Which artist designed a memorial fresco for the papal elephant after it died from complications related to treatment for constipation with a gold-enriched laxative?
A) Raphael; B) Michelangelo; C) Bernini.

5. Where is the papal elephant buried at the Vatican?
A) The Belvedere Courtyard; B) St. Peter’s Square; C) The Vatican Gardens.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸   Bishop Mark J. Seitz has said that the U.S. bishops are “deeply troubled” by a proposed rule on asylum eligibility at the U.S.-Mexico border.

🇹🇭  Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi said that Catholics “have to be the source of hope” as he celebrated the opening Mass of the Asian synodal continental assembly in Bangkok, Thailand (Cardinal Mario Grech).

🇿🇼  Zimbabwe’s Catholic bishops have said that the country’s general election is “a sacred moment of synodality” (full text).

🇻🇦  Only six countries lack official diplomatic ties with the Holy See after the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Oman (Elise Ann Allen,

🇩🇪  The Diocese of Münster has rejected claims that Bishop Felix Genn covered up abuse following the publication of a report covering his tenure in the Diocese of Essen (German report, press statement).

🇪🇸  More than 1.5 million people visited the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba in 2022 (Spanish report).

🇮🇹  The Vatican will take part in this year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture with a pavilion on the theme of “social friendship” (Italian report).

📅  Coming soon

Feb. 25  Nigeria’s general election.

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

Feb. 27  German bishops’ spring plenary assembly starts in Dresden; 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  Africa synodal continental assembly begins in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Cardinal Robert McElroy speaks at the “New and Old Wars, New and Old Challenges to Peace” event at the University of Notre Dame.

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.

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

Have a happy feast of St. Evetius.
-- Luke

Do you know someone who would appreciate reading this newsletter? Invite your friends to sign up here.

Start your day with Starting Seven in your inbox.