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Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily newsletter.

I’m Luke Coppen and I seek to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.

😇 Today’s feast:  St. Anthony of Egypt.

📜 Today’s readings:  Heb 6:10-20 ▪  Ps. 111:1-2, 4-5, 9 & 10c  ▪  Mk 2:23-28.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has welcomed the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka’s ruling that a former president and four senior officials must compensate families affected by the 2019 Easter bombings.

2:  New figures show that 28.3% of Poland’s Catholics attended Mass in 2021, down from 36.9% in 2019, when statistics were last collected (Polish press release, statistics).

3:  Austrian bishops’ conference president Archbishop Franz Lackner has said that the pandemic and the issue of mandatory vaccinations help to explain why record numbers formally left the Church in 2022 (German report, statistics).

4:  The Community of the Beatitudes has said that it takes allegations of clerical sexual abuse raised in a newspaper investigation “very seriously” (French report, full statement).

5:  Cardinal Joseph Zen says he fears that the Synod of Bishops “will repeat the same mistake as the Dutch Church 50 years ago, when the bishops backed down and accepted that the faithful would lead the Church” (Italian interview).

6:  Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich says that if neighboring countries had been invited to take part in Germany’s synodal way, the initiative would have been “less radical” (Spanish interview).

7:  And Vatican Observatory director Brother Guy J. Consolmagno encourages amateur astronomers to look out for the “lovely sight” of a rare “green comet.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Catholics in the crosshairs  Catholics are a minority in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (Burma), but they have been frequently caught in the crosshairs since the military seized power on Feb. 1, 2021.

The latest victim is a deacon who reportedly died during airstrikes on villages in the northern Karen State on Jan. 12.

  • “The bombs destroyed two churches and the school, as well as other structures,” reported the Christian humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers. “A mother and her baby were instantly killed, as was another villager, the pastor of the Baptist church, and a Catholic deacon. Two women, one the wife of the deacon, were wounded.”

On Jan. 15, the military is reported to have set fire to a 129-year-old Catholic church in the northwestern Sagaing Region. The Assumption Church was “completely destroyed,” said UCA News, along with the priest’s house and a convent.

What’s happening?  Violence has engulfed Myanmar — a Buddhist-majority country with a population of around 54 million people — since the coup almost two years ago, when the military detained the country’s democratically elected head of government, Aung San Suu Kyi, and president Win Myint, claiming that the results of a 2020 election were illegitimate.

Catholics, who account for just 1% of the population, joined mass protests that were ruthlessly repressed. In an incident that went viral, a religious sister knelt before security forces in the northern Kachin State, begging them not to attack protesters.

The authorities were accused of shelling a Catholic church in the eastern Kayah State in May 2021 and arresting a priest a month later in the western Chin State.

In April 2022, soldiers searched Sacred Heart Cathedral in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, after a false tip-off that it was housing weapons destined for anti-government rebels.

Catholics are not only caught up in the repression of pro-democracy protests but also in clashes between the military and more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, part of what’s been described as “the world’s longest continuing civil war.”

How is the Church reacting?  In a Vatican News interview marking the coup’s first anniversary, Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo said: “Places of worship have been violated. Deaths occurred inside the churches. The bishops’ conference condemned the church bombings and also the inhuman killing.”

Pope Francis has done his best to turn the international spotlight on Myanmar, which he visited in 2017. He has repeatedly called for an end to violence and celebrated a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for Myanmar’s Catholics in May 2021.

  • In his Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” message that year, he noted that in Myanmar “intolerance and violence not infrequently target the Christian community and its places of worship.”

Days ago, the pope highlighted Myanmar in his annual “state of the world” address to diplomats.

  • “I invite the international community to work to concretize the processes of reconciliation and I urge all the parties involved to undertake anew the path of dialogue, in order to restore hope to the people of that beloved land,” he said.

What’s next  Despite relentless violence, a general election is expected to be held in Myanmar between February and August this year. Citizens will have their first chance since the coup to elect representatives to both houses of the country’s legislature. Opposition groups have accused the military of using the poll as a way of boosting its legitimacy and predicted that the vote will not be free and fair.

The election seems unlikely to bring peace to Myanmar — or lessen the dangers facing the country’s Catholics and their fellow citizens.

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

🇺🇸  New guidance on the pastoral care of people experiencing gender dysphoria has gone into effect in the Diocese of Des Moines (full text).

🇬🇧  The U.K. government has said it will block a bill passed by the Scottish Parliament — and opposed by local bishops — making it easier for people to change their legally recognized gender.

🇧🇾  Archbishop Ante Jozić, the apostolic nuncio to Belarus, has “discussed topical matters” with the country’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs.

🇦🇺  Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher has said he would support new efforts to tackle problem gambling in New South Wales.

🇳🇬  Nigerian bishops’ conference president Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji has urged the authorities to “do all it takes to arrest the criminals” behind the murder and burning of Fr. Isaac Achi.

🇨🇫  Bishops in the Central African Republic have hailed the global Synodal Process as “a time of grace and a great moment of ecclesial communion.”

🇰🇪  Fr. Michael Mithamo King’ori has become Kenya’s first blind Catholic priest.

📅  Coming soon

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

Jan. 21  Walk for Life West Coast; 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  Vatican press conference on the ecumenical prayer vigil ahead of the synod on synodality; 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. 2  Requiem Mass and burial of Cardinal George Pell at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia.

Feb. 3 Cardinal Domenico Calcagno turns 80.

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

Have a happy feast of St. Anthony of Egypt.

-- Luke

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