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 feast: St. Marguerite Bourgeoys.

📜 Today’s readings:  Heb 3:7-14 ▪  Ps 95:6-7c, 8-9, 10-11  ▪  Mk 1:40-45.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  A funeral Mass for Cardinal George Pell will be celebrated Saturday in St. Peter’s Basilica (press release, BBC report).

2:  Cardinal Pell said that the push for synodality in the Catholic Church is turning into a “toxic nightmare” in an article written shortly before his death (Damian Thompson, Nicole Winfield).

3:  A delegation of bishops has held “prolonged closed-door discussions” with priests and lay representatives of India’s Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in an effort to resolve the Syro-Malabar Church’s liturgical dispute.

4: Belgium’s Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard has said in a new book that the Church’s greatest need is for holiness, “not to reform our parish structures, nor to create commissions for this or that, nor to organize synods” (French report).

5:  Archbishop Georg Gänswein reportedly attempted to block the publication of his controversial new memoir immediately after Benedict XVI’s death (German report).

6:  Andrea Gagliarducci says that Archbishop Gänswein’s new book is “full of unpublished works and unknown stories” (Jonathan Liedl).

7:  And Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna explains why the future Benedict XVI “actually bought my first computer from his own pocket.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Santo subito?  An Italian lay missionary dubbed the “new St. Francis” has died at the age of 59 after a struggle with cancer.

Biagio Conte, a figure hardly known outside Italy, was arguably one of the most striking characters in 21st-century Catholicism. Dressed in a rough hooded habit, he had a long salt-and-pepper beard and piercing eyes, and could be seen walking in his native Sicily with a shepherd’s crook and large cross.

But his otherworldly personality was combined with a deep commitment to people living on the margins of Sicily’s capital, Palermo, where he founded the Mission of Hope and Charity.

In a sign of the esteem in which “Fratel Biagio” (Brother Biagio) is held in Italy, President Sergio Mattarella issued a message marking his death.

  • He said: “I have learned with deep sorrow the sad news of the death of Brother Biagio, a point of reference, not only in Palermo, for those who believe in the values of solidarity and the dignity of the person, which he witnessed concretely, engagingly, and heroically.”

Foot pilgrimages and fasts  Brother Biagio was born in Palermo on Sept. 16, 1963. He seemed destined to work in his wealthy family’s building contracting business. But following a spiritual crisis, he moved to Florence in 1983.

He resolved in 1990 to live as a hermit in Sicily. He walked to Assisi a year later and felt a calling to serve as a missionary in Africa. But he decided to remain in his homeland after witnessing the destitution in Palermo.

He became an advocate for the homeless in the city’s central station, holding protests and fasting on their behalf. He founded the Mission of Hope and Charity to support them and other urban poor in 1991. The mission now serves more than 600 people at 10 facilities.

After several homeless people died on Palermo’s streets in 2018, Brother Biagio launched a hunger strike and slept rough. He went on another hunger strike a year later in protest at the scheduled deportation of a Ghanaian man who volunteered at the mission.

In 2020, he undertook a 40-day fast in a cave outside Palermo. He returned bearing what he called a “message of peace and hope to this much troubled, much suffering humanity.”

He announced in June 2022 that he was suffering from colon cancer.

What’s next?  Many Italians already see Brother Biagio as a saint and treasure his sayings. Vatican News described him as Palermo’s “angel of the least among us” (“l’angelo degli ultimi”) and offered an extensive account of his life.

The decision whether to open his sainthood cause should fall to Palermo’s Archbishop Corrado Lorefice, who visited a bedridden Brother Biagio on Jan. 6 and was photographed tenderly touching his face. The archbishop recently compared the missionary to a “star,” who “leads us to the essential,” so there seems little doubt how he would respond to the request.

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

🇺🇸  A federal judge has ruled that a Catholic-founded hospital in Maryland violated a ban on discrimination when it refused to perform a transgender surgery.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿  A Scottish bishop has said that the closure of an Amazon warehouse in Gourock would be “another severe blow to families and the local economy.”

🇫🇷  The preliminary investigation for “sexual assault on a vulnerable person” opened against former Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit concerns facts related to his resignation, according to the newspaper Libération (French report).

🇭🇳  Church groups in Honduras have condemned the murder of two environmental activists (Spanish report).

🇵🇪  Peru’s bishops have lamented the “excessive use of force” in response to anti-government protests.

🇱🇰  Sri Lankan Catholics have criticized the reported promotion of an official who they accuse of failing to stop the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.

🇲🇾 The Church of St. Anne has been officially proclaimed Malaysia’s first minor basilica.

📅  Coming soon

Jan. 14 Funeral Mass for Cardinal George Pell in St. Peter’s Basilica at 11:30 a.m. Rome time; Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco turns 80.

Jan. 18  Start of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Jan. 21  U.S. bishops’ annual collection for Church in Latin America; Pope Francis expected to receive Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso; Cardinal Vincent Nichols celebrates Mass marking the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Jesuit’s British Province.

Jan. 22  U.S. Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children; March for Life in Paris, France.

Jan. 31  Pope Francis starts visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan; Portuguese-speaking bishops’ meeting begins in Nampula, Mozambique.

Feb. 3 Cardinal Domenico Calcagno turns 80.

Feb. 5  Europe’s continental synodal assembly begins in Prague.

Have a very happy feast of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys.

-- 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.