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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 saint: St. Maron (Roman Martyrology).

📜 Today’s readings:  Gn 2:18-25 ▪  Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 ▪  Mk 7:24-30.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Cardinal Mario Grech said that “the synod is not there to destroy distinctions, to destroy the Catholic identity,” as he celebrated Mass during the European synodal continental assembly in Prague.

2:  Papal envoy Cardinal Benjamin Stella has said that an amnesty for Cubans arrested in the country’s 2021 protests is “on the table.”

3:  A Catholic priest is seeking to establish whether he broke the law after charges against him were dropped for silently holding a “praying for free speech” sign near a closed abortion facility in England.

4:  Another woman has come forward with allegations against Priests for Life director Frank Pavone.

5:   Moscow Archbishop Paolo Pezzi has said that dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church “should be all the more intensified” following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February.

6:  María Ortiz-Briones reports on the dedication of North America’s largest Catholic parish church.

7:  And Baltimore Archbishop William Lori has dispensed Catholics from the obligation to abstain from eating meat on St. Patrick’s Day.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

The next assembly  Today is a public holiday in Lebanon. The Middle Eastern nation is observing St. Maron’s Day, in honor of the 4th-century hermit who laid the foundations of the Maronite Church, one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome.

The public holiday testifies to the Maronite Church’s importance within Lebanon. The autonomous Church, led by Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, has an estimated 3.5 million members, who live not only in Lebanon but also in diaspora communities in Australia, Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere.

Lebanon is not only home to Maronite Catholics, but also members of the Syriac Catholic Church, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Latin Church.

That makes it a fitting location for the Middle East synodal continental assembly, which begins Feb. 13. The assembly will be held in Bethania-Harissa, outside the capital Beirut, following assemblies in Europe and Oceania.

Why it matters  While continental assemblies are taking place all over the world, the Middle Eastern edition is notable because it will bring together representatives of Eastern Catholic Churches that are already deeply familiar with the idea of a “synodal Church.”

The Maronite Church, for example, is governed by a synod composed of all its bishops and led by its patriarch.

This long experience could prove useful for other parts of the Catholic world where the concept is newer and a source of confusion or suspicion.

At a Feb. 6 press conference previewing the assembly, Bishop Isaac Jules Boutros noted “the great importance that the Church views the contributions of the Eastern churches in the synodal process.”

  • “The continental stage is not about giving answers or making decisions about the measures that must be adopted, but rather a state of general spiritual mobilization in solidarity to highlight the identity of the people of God and their call as a church in the heart of the world,” he said.

The Middle Eastern assembly is also significant because it will include Catholics for whom violent persecution is a daily threat or recent memory. This could give the discussions a particular sense of urgency and focus.

How it will work  The first day will feature speeches by Cardinal Mario Grech, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, and Patriarch al-Rahi, as well as Mass celebrated in the Maronite rite in the Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon.

The remaining days will follow an intensive pattern of prayer and discussion, leading to the creation of a final document that will be submitted to the Vatican ahead of the synod on synodality starting in October.

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

🇺🇸  An FBI internal memo has reportedly said that “radical traditionalist Catholic ideology” could present “new mitigation opportunities.”

🇭🇹  Kidnappers are demanding a ransom in exchange for a priest’s release.

🇸🇾  Apostolic nuncio Cardinal Mario Zenari has visited Aleppo following the devastating Turkey-Syria earthquake.

🇻🇦  Cardinal Mauro Gambetti has appointed a “reference person” for the protection of minors in the Vatican.

🇪🇸  Spain’s Diocese of Orihuela-Alicante has signed an agreement permitting Ukrainian Orthodox believers to use one of its chapels (Spanish report).

🇷🇺  Russian Orthodox churchman Metropolitan Anthony has confirmed that there are no plans for a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.

🇦🇺  Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher has backed the introduction of a cashless gaming card to address “problem gambling.”

📅  Coming soon

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

Feb. 12  World Marriage Day.

Feb. 13  Final report of Portugal’s independent abuse commission due to be released; Apostolic visitation of the French Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon begins; The Middle East’s continental synodal assembly begins in Beirut, Lebanon; The 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 a 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.

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

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