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
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).
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).
🇻🇦 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.
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.
🔍 Stories to watch
🇰🇪 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. 25 Pope Francis presides at Vespers at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls at 5:30 p.m. local time.
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.
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