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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: Bl. Columba Marmion; Bl. Mary Angela Truszkowska.

📜 Today’s readings:  Heb 11:32-40 ▪  Ps 31:20, 21, 22, 23, 24 ▪  Mk 5:1-20.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Torrential rain has reportedly damaged the podium at Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass on Thursday (French report).

2:  A court has granted bail to Syro-Malabar Church leader Cardinal George Alencherry in a case concerning controversial land deals, prompting a lay group to call for his resignation.

3:  Philadelphia’s Miraculous Medal Shrine has been elevated to the status of a minor basilica.

4: Elise Ann Allen, Gerard O’Connell, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Jean-Christophe Ploquin, Philip Pullella, Harriet Sherwood, and Archbishop Marcel Utembi preview Pope Francis’ Africa trip.

5:  Juan Carlos Cruz, E.J. Dionne, and Austen Ivereigh comment on Pope Francis’ statements about homosexuality and sin (papal clarification).

6:  Ross Douthat, Paul Elie, Austen Ivereigh, Marco Politi, and Michael Sean Winters assess the post-Benedict XVI Church.

7:  And Italian missionary Bishop Christian Carlassare, who was shot in both legs in 2021, is leading a nine-day foot pilgrimage from his diocese to meet Pope Francis in South Sudan’s capital, Juba (Italian report).

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🔄  Weekend round-up

On Saturday, Jan. 28, Pope Francis appointed Pope John Paul II’s postulator Msgr. Sławomir Oder as bishop of Gliwice, Poland, and Fr. Aldo Berardi, O.SS.T., as vicar apostolic of Northern Arabia. He received in private audience Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship, Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama of Raleigh, and others, and spoke to priests engaged in youth ministry in the Barcelona archdiocese (Spanish full text, Vatican News report).

On Sunday, Jan. 29, the pope delivered his Angelus address, lamenting the “spiral of death” in the Holy Land, highlighting the Lachin Corridor crisis, and calling for prayers for his Africa trip.

🧐  Look closer

A message for bishops This morning, the Synod website posted a letter to the world’s bishops from Cardinal Mario Grech and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich.

The three-page letter, dated Jan. 26 and addressing bishops’ role in the global Synodal Process, was released in Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as English.

It was issued as bishops around the world prepare to attend continental assemblies, a critical moment in the current continental stage of the global initiative.

What does it say?  The roughly 1,700-word letter seeks to reassure bishops that they have a fundamental part to play in the Synodal Process, underlining that “there is no exercise of ecclesial synodality without exercise of episcopal collegiality.”

It also emphasizes that synodality is the “sole theme” for discussion at the culminating phase of the Synodal Process, when the bishops meet in Rome in October 2023 and October 2024.

  • “Those who claim to impose any one theme on the Synod forget the logic that governs the synod process: we are called to chart a ‘common course’ beginning with the contribution of all,” the letter says.

What’s the context?  Concerns about the bishops’ role in the process were reportedly aired in August during the consistory of cardinals in Rome.

Reservations were expressed again in October when synod organizers unveiled the “Document for the Continental Stage” (DCS), a text intended to guide deliberations during the continental phase.

  • Summarizing the concerns in a Pillar analysis, JD Flynn and Ed Condon wrote that, rather than being asked to engage in discernment, diocesan bishops were being invited to be “cheerleaders and stenographers, called to make a good report about what their people had to say, and then send it up the ecclesiastical food chain.”

In a blistering article written shortly before his death, Cardinal George Pell described the Synodal Process as a “toxic nightmare” and the DCS as “one of the most incoherent documents ever sent out from Rome.” Former Vatican doctrinal chief Cardinal Gerhard Müller, meanwhile, described the initiative as a “democratization, a de facto Protestantization.”

Prominent supporters of the process have suggested that the international synods in 2023 and 2024 will be the forum for watershed debates on issues such as women priests.

What’s next  The cardinals’ letter to bishops is an effort to address and allay doubts about their role in the Synodal Process and the initiative’s agenda.

Synod organizers will be looking to see whether the intervention dims the tide of criticism. They will have a glimpse of an answer at the continental assemblies and a firmer idea when the bishops descend on Rome 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

🇻🇦 Cardinal Pietro Parolin may not testify at the Vatican finance trial after the court decided it was better to hear first from Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Substitute (Sostituto) of the Secretariat of State (Italian report, John Allen).

🇦🇺  New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet has confirmed that the Australian state’s education standards authority is investigating Opus Dei-linked schools in Sydney.

🇳🇮  Nicaraguan Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes has ordained 11 new priests for the Archdiocese of Managua amid tensions between the Church and state (Spanish report).

🇮🇱 🇵🇸  The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have said that violence in the Holy Land will “continue and even escalate unless a robust intervention is resolutely undertaken by community and political leaders on all sides.”

🇲🇲  Aid to the Church in Need is holding three days of prayer for Myanmar to mark the second anniversary of the country’s military coup.

🇳🇬  A Nigerian bishop has said that an ongoing redesign of the country’s currency is “causing untold hardship.”

🇨🇻  Bishops in Cape Verde have issued a pastoral letter marking the 500th anniversary of the Church’s presence in the country (Portuguese report).

📅  Coming soon

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, Czech Republic; Oceania’s continental synodal assembly starts in Suva, Fiji; Mass at Argentina’s Basilica of Our Lady of Luján marking 25 years since Cardinal Eduardo Pironio’s death.

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

Feb. 12  The Middle East’s continental synodal assembly begins in Beirut, Lebanon.

Feb. 13  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 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.

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 Bl. Columba Marmion and Bl. Mary Angela Truszkowska.
-- Luke

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