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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: St. Paul Miki and Companions.

📜 Today’s readings:  Gn 1:1-19 ▪  Ps 104:1-2a, 5-6, 10 and 12, 24 and 35c ▪  Mk 6:53-56.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Pope Francis addressed his critics, the criminalization of homosexuality, and his future travels at an in-flight press conference after his six-day trip to Africa.

2:  Anglican leader Justin Welby has described the ecumenical pilgrimage to South Sudan as “a sign of hope for peace and reconciliation around the world.”

3:  Vatican “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher has said that the pope wants to meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow but “only in a situation of peace” (Italian report).

4:  Syriac Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II has appealed for prayers after an earthquake killed more than 1,000 people in Syria and Turkey.

5:  At the opening Mass of Europe’s continental synodal assembly, Prague Archbishop Jan Graubner suggested that the synodal process has so far “failed to discover the sensus fidei of the faithful” (participants, redaction committee, schedule).

6:  Christopher Tollefsen critiques Cardinal Robert McElroy’s appeal for “radical inclusion” (Mark Silk, Fr. Raymond J. de Souza).

7:  And Oliver Wainwright visits “the biggest Catholic parish church in the whole of North America.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🔄  Weekend round-up

On Saturday, Feb. 4, Pope Francis met with bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and seminarians in Juba, South Sudan, attended a private meeting with Jesuits, greeted internally displaced persons, and took part in an ecumenical prayer service. He also appointed new bishops in India and sent a video message marking the presentation of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.

On Sunday, Feb. 5, the pope celebrated Mass at the John Garang Mausoleum before leaving South Sudan, held an in-flight press conference, and visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major on his return to Rome.

🧐  Look closer

‘India will be next’  On his return flight to Rome Sunday, Pope Francis was asked about his future travel plans. “Regarding journeys: I think India will be next, next year,” he said.

The 86-year-old clarified that he hoped to make some more journeys in 2023. In August, he will attend World Youth Day in Lisbon. On Sept. 29, he intends to go to Marseilles (“not to France”) and perhaps from there directly to Mongolia, where no pope has gone before.

Why 2024?  Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s groundbreaking visit to India. The 1964 trip helped to launch a new era of international papal travel.

Paul VI described his journey as “a revelation of an unknown universe.” It helped to crystalize the themes of Populorum Progressio, his influential 1967 encyclical on “the development of peoples.”

John Paul II traveled to India in 1986 and 1999, so Pope Francis’ trip would be the first papal visit to India in 25 years.

Off and on again  Pope Francis originally planned to visit India and Bangladesh in 2017. But as “procedures became protracted, and time was pressing,” he opted to visit Myanmar and Bangladesh instead.

  • “It was providential, because visiting India requires one journey: you must go to the south, to the center, to the east, to the west, to the north … for the diverse cultures of India,” he explained on the return flight from Bangladesh.

The India trip was revived on Oct. 31, 2021, when the pope received the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time in a private audience at the Vatican. Photos showed the two leaders embracing warmly.

Elections and elephants  The 2024 journey may face some obstacles. The pope will then be 87 and his mobility problems may be more severe.

Generally, the Vatican prefers to avoid papal trips in election seasons. But next year will be politically significant for the world’s largest democracy. India is due to hold a general election by May 2024, along with local elections.

Finally, there is the elephant in the room: the rising persecution of the country’s religious minorities, including Catholics.

  • As John Allen wrote Sunday, the violence “is part of what critics describe as the ‘saffronization’ of India under Modi, meaning the transformation from a multi-cultural state, in which identity is premised on citizenship, into a Hindu-dominated society in which national and religious identity are intertwined.”

If the situation continues to deteriorate, Pope Francis could face pressure to abandon the trip. At the same time, it could reinforce his determination to preach his message of fraternity in person in a country that will help shape global trends in decades to come.

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🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  The Archdiocese of Detroit has stepped in amid “concerns regarding administrative and financial practices” at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica.

🇳🇮  A Nicaraguan court has sentenced Fr. Óscar Danilo Benavidez Dávila to 10 years in prison for “conspiracy” and “spreading false news” (Spanish report).

🇵🇪  Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto has lamented Congress’ rejection of early elections.

🇻🇦  Mariella Enoc, 80, has resigned after seven years as president of Rome’s Bambino Gesù Hospital (Italian report).

🇫🇯  Oceania’s continental synodal assembly has begun in Suva, Fiji (Cardinal Michael Czerny address, Cardinal Mario Grech video message, highlights, schedule).

🇭🇰  Cardinal Joseph Zen and jailed Catholic businessman Jimmy Lai have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

🇲🇲  Artillery shells have fallen on Our Lady of Sorrow Church in Myanmar’s Pekhon diocese.

📅  Coming soon

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 starts in San Salvador, El Salvador; Final report of Portugal’s independent abuse commission due to be released.

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 the 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. Paul Miki and Companions.
-- Luke

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