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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 feast:  St. Berard of Carbio.

📜 Today’s readings:  Heb 5:1-10 ▪  Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4  ▪  Mk 2:18-22.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  A Catholic priest was shot dead and his body burned during an attack in Nigeria’s Niger State.

2:  Jordan has unveiled a $100 million plan to attract a million Christians to Jesus’ baptism site in 2030.

3:  Cardinal George Pell’s funeral took place Saturday in St. Peter’s Basilica (George Weigel).

4:  A man has been arrested after a drive-by shooting outside a Catholic church in London, England, left six people injured, including a seven-year-old girl.

5:  Andrea Gagliarducci, Grzegorz Górny, Mike Lewis, Ulrich Nersinger, and Sergio Ventura weigh up Pope Francis’ changes to the Diocese of Rome.

6:  Kevin McKenna explains why Mass attendance has “increased dramatically” at a Catholic church in Glasgow, Scotland.

7: And Jonathan Fuqua and Daniel Strudwick share what they learned from 10 theologians’ conversion stories.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🔄  Weekend round-up

On Saturday, Jan. 14, Pope Francis issued a letter marking 25 years since John Paul II’s Cuba visit, appointed a new archbishop in Croatia, received Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the Holy See in audience, and addressed the community of the Pontifical North American College and members of the Pope John XXIII community.

On Sunday, Jan. 15, the pope gave an Angelus address, in which he announced an ecumenical prayer vigil on Sept. 30 in St. Peter’s Square to “entrust to God the work” of the synod on synodality.

🧐  Look closer

Into the warzone?  In an interview broadcast at the weekend in Italy, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s top adviser said that “it is time for the pope to visit Ukraine.”

Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, told Sky TG24 that a papal visit would “give a very clear signal that it is Russia that has to stop what it has started, withdrawing its troops from Ukraine to stop the destruction.”

  • “If that is the case, we look forward to Pope Francis’ visit,” he said, “his trip would be a very important contribution to ending the war.”

A hypothetical papal visit to Ukraine has been discussed on and off since Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. During the war’s first year, Pope Francis has tried — with mixed results — to maintain a tricky balancing act: supporting the “noble and martyred” people of Ukraine, while keeping diplomatic channels with Russia open.

Fury in Moscow  Pope Francis made it clear that he would only travel to Kyiv if he received a corresponding invitation to visit Moscow — always a dim prospect since no pope has ever been welcomed to the Russian Orthodox Church’s heartland.

The pope provoked uproar in Moscow in November when he lamented the cruelty of Russia’s ethnic minority troops. The diplomatic incident lasted two weeks before the Holy See issued an apology. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova declared on Dec. 15 that “this incident is over and we hope that we will continue constructive cooperation with the Vatican.”

But President Vladimir Putin didn’t issue a lavish message marking the pope’s Dec. 17 birthday, as he did in 2021. The Russian state-owned news agency TASS noted pointedly that Pope Francis wasn’t on Putin’s Christmas greetings list (though Putin paid tribute to Benedict XVI after the pope emeritus’ death on Dec. 31.)

But on Jan. 9, Russia’s ambassador to the Holy See personally delivered Putin’s New Year greetings to the pope.

  • “I conveyed the Russian president’s greetings to Pope Francis and he passed his greetings in return, expressing gratitude for assistance in the prisoner swaps,” Aleksandr Avdeyev said.

Skepticism in Kyiv  In his Italian television interview, Yermak expressed the Ukrainian government’s continued skepticism about a papal visit to Russia.

  • “As for his visit to Moscow, I think it will be useful only if he comes back from Moscow with some results: the decision of Russia to end the war,” he said. “But everything depends on Russia.”

Neither the pope nor the Vatican has sent any recent signals that a Moscow-Kyiv visit is an imminent prospect. But there are gaps in the 86-year-old’s travel schedule for 2023: the only confirmed trips so far are to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan on Jan. 31-Feb. 5 and World Youth Day in Portugal in August. So, a peace mission could be probably accommodated in the next few months if (and it’s a big if) the stars aligned.

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

🇺🇸  U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio has called for action “to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system” in a message marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

🇨🇳  A new exhibition highlighting “the history of the sinicization of Catholicism” has gone on display at the Catholic Archbishop’s Palace in Beijing.

🇳🇵  Nepal’s oldest Jesuit missionary, the Cleveland-born Fr. Casper J. Miller, has died at the age of 90.

🇨🇩  Islamic State-affiliated rebels have claimed responsibility for a bomb attack at a Pentecostal church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo weeks before Pope Francis visits the country.

🇳🇬  A Catholic diocese in Nigeria has appealed for prayers for a priest kidnapped Jan. 14.

🇻🇦  An arts and trades school is due to be inaugurated today in the workshops of the Fabric of St. Peter.

🇩🇪  The German blog Summorum Pontificum has reported rumors of a new apostolic constitution touching on the Traditional Latin Mass (German text).

📅  Coming soon

Jan. 17  Open Doors unveils 2023 World Watch List; Funeral of Brother Biagio Conte; The Polish Catholic Church’s annual Day of Judaism.

Jan. 18  Start of the 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  Pope Francis celebrates Mass marking the Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica at 9:30 a.m. local time; March for Life in Paris, France.

Jan. 23  U.S. Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.

Jan. 25  Pope Francis presides at Vespers at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls at 5:30 p.m. local time.

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 happy feast of St. Berard of Carbio.

-- Luke

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