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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 feasts: St. Blaise, St. Ansgar.

📜 Today’s readings:  Heb 13:1-8 ▪  Ps 27:1, 3, 5, 8b-9abc ▪  Mk 6:14-29.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Pope Francis urged Congolese bishops not to “let the flame of prophecy be extinguished by an ambiguous relationship to the powers that be,” before departing for South Sudan, where recent fighting has killed 27 people (Italian full text, photos, full video, Andrea Tornielli).

2:  On the third day of his visit to Kinshasa, the pope told clergy that “your lives must speak louder than your words,” and attended a private meeting with Jesuits (Address full text, photos, full video, highlights).

3:  Cardinal Robert McElroy has responded to critics of his “radical inclusion” essay.

4:  Cardinal Mario Grech has suggested that the Irish Church’s national synod could “proceed at a slower pace” to “wait for the conclusion” of the global synodal process (interview).

5:  Influential Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John Zizioulas has died at the age of 92.

6:  Bishop Christian Carlassare, who was shot in both legs in 2021, has arrived with “sore feet” in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, after a nine-day foot pilgrimage to see the pope.

7:  And Fr. Patrick Briscoe explains yesterday’s papal “middle finger” tweet (Italian text).

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Bishops and the ‘black dog’ When Pope Francis accepted the resignation of 73-year-old Bishop Edward Dajczak of Koszalin-Kołobrzeg yesterday, it generated little interest outside Poland. He was immediately succeeded by Bishop Zbigniew Zieliński, who had been appointed his coadjutor in March 2022, so his departure was no surprise. Nor was it a mystery: Bishop Dajczak had suffered a series of health problems, including cancer.

But in an interview published on the diocese’s website Feb. 2, the bishop spoke candidly about another challenge during his 15-year tenure in the diocese in northwestern Poland: depression.

‘Pretending to be a strongman’  Bishop Dajczak said he had been physically weakened by bouts with COVID and struggled with anxiety, which had lifted, but “the attacks of depression have not passed.”

  • “They are sometimes so strong that they cause withdrawal, a desire to hide,” he said. “A person would simply like to fall asleep and not feel reality. Those who experience depression know what I’m talking about.”

The bishop said he would advise others to “find someone who can help.”

  • “The moment I started therapy, including medication, these states began to tone down, they are much weaker,” he said. “In addition, in order not to provoke the body, not to create even more difficult situations, I decided to resign.”

He added that he did not see depression as something to be ashamed of and hidden, saying “there is no point in pretending to be a strongman where you are not.”

Regaining strength and hope  Bishop Dajczak is not the only Church leader to speak openly about depression. In 2019, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, announced that he was taking temporary leave following a diagnosis of “depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia and debilitating tinnitus.”

After he resumed office 11 months later, he credited St. Joseph with playing “no small part in helping me regain my strength and my hope.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby — who joins Pope Francis on an “ecumenical peace pilgrimage” in South Sudan today — acknowledged in 2017 that he struggled with depression.

  • “I think if you had asked me a year ago I’d have said no, and 10 years ago I would have said absolutely not,” the leader of the Anglican Communion told interviewer Alastair Campbell. “But what was that phrase Churchill used? ‘Black dog.’ There is an element of that … I have those moments — you would know this — when objectively everything is fine, but you think you are, beyond description, hopeless.”

In 2019, the archbishop said he was taking antidepressants and “on the whole managing very well.”

That same year, Pope Francis told an interviewer that he had visited a psychiatrist once a week for six months while leading Argentina’s Jesuit province under the country’s military dictatorship.

  • “The treatment with the psychiatrist also helped me to find my bearings and to learn to manage my anxiety and to avoid rushing when making decisions,” he noted, adding that “her teachings are still very useful to me today.”

What’s next  According to the World Health Organization, incidences of anxiety and depression rose globally by 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. While women and young people were most affected, the case of Bishop Dajczak suggests that it has touched the episcopate too.

The sense of permanent crisis in parts of the Catholic world appears to be adding to the toll. In France, where the Church faces intense challenges, there is a growing trend of episcopal burnout.

In future, Catholics may need to pay closer attention to their leaders’ wellbeing and not take it for granted that they are coping with the complex challenges of leadership.

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 the African Church? (Answers below).

1. Which of the following was not from Africa?
A)  St. Mark the Evangelist; B) St. Augustine of Hippo; C) St. Jerome.

2. The world’s largest Catholic seminary is reputed to be in which country?
A) The Democratic Republic of the Congo; B) Nigeria; C) Kenya.

3. How many of the world’s 223 cardinals are from Africa?
A) 26; B) 46; C) 66.

4. How many heads of Vatican dicasteries are African?
A) One; B) Two; C) Zero.

5. How many papal visits to Africa have there been since 1960?
A) 9; B) 19; C) 29.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  Bishop Daniel J. Felton has reportedly announced that he received a Vatican dispensation for the Traditional Latin Mass to be celebrated in a parish church in his Diocese of Duluth.

🇵🇹  Lisbon city officials and World Youth Day organizers have met to discuss “alternative solutions” for hosting the event in August amid a cost dispute (Portuguese report).

🇫🇷  France has moved closer to becoming the first country to enshrine the “right” to abortion in its constitution.

🇩🇪  A German bishop has said there won’t be time to discuss all the remaining “synodal way” texts at the initiative’s fifth and final assembly in March, so they will be reviewed later by the country’s “synodal committee” (German report).

🇸🇮  The Jesuit team investigating the Rupnik case will hold a press conference in Rome in mid-February, according to Slovenian Jesuit provincial Fr. Miran Žvanut (Italian report).

🇻🇦  The cause of the Italian Salesian bishop Giuseppe Cognata has taken a step forward.

🇪🇸  Benedict XVI will have a street named after him in Madrid (Spanish report).

📅  Coming soon

Feb. 4  Pope Francis meets with bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and seminarians in St. Theresa’s Cathedral, Juba, attends a private meeting with Jesuits at the apostolic nunciature, greets internally displaced persons in the Freedom Hall, and attends an ecumenical prayer service at the John Garang Mausoleum.

Feb. 5  Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the John Garang Mausoleum, departs from Juba International Airport for Rome; Europe’s continental synodal assembly begins in Prague, Czech Republic; Oceania’s continental synodal assembly starts in Suva, Fiji; Mass at Argentina’s Basilica of Our Lady of Luján marking 25 years since Cardinal Eduardo Pironio’s death.

Feb. 11  One-day conference with Bishop Robert Barron in London, England.

Feb. 12  The Middle East’s continental synodal assembly begins in Beirut, Lebanon.

Feb. 13  Continental phase regional assembly for the Central America-Mexico region begins in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Feb. 14  Episcopal ordination of Bishop-elect Patrick Neary in Saint Cloud, Minnesota; Release of report on abuse in Germany’s Diocese of Essen due to be published.

Feb. 20  Continental phase regional assembly for the Caribbean region begins in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Feb. 22  Ash Wednesday, Lent begins.

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. B; 3. A; 4: C; 5: B.

Have a happy feast of St. Blaise and St. Ansgar.
-- Luke

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