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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. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

📜 Today’s readings:  1 Jn 3:7-10  ▪  Ps 98:1, 7-8, 9  ▪  Jn 1:35-42.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Pope Francis described Benedict XVI as a “great master of catechesis” at this morning’s general audience (text, full video, photos).

2:  French authorities are conducting a preliminary inquiry into an allegation that former Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit sexually assaulted a vulnerable person.

3:  One person was reportedly killed and five wounded when Myanmar’s military bombed a Catholic church in Kachin State.

4:  Unidentified gunmen have killed a Catholic priest in northwest Burkina Faso (Italian report).

5:  David Gibson, Jacob Phillips, George Weigel, and Cardinal Joseph Zen reflect on the life of Benedict XVI.

6:  Exorcisms are now available in only one diocese in German-speaking Switzerland.

7:  And John Allen and Gerard O’Connell preview Catholic events in 2023.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

All the world’s a stage  It’s been billed as one of the most important Catholic events since the Second Vatican Council. But the global Synodal Process has dropped out of the news in recent weeks. Yet that doesn’t mean it has ground to a halt.

After an initial diocesan phase that ended in August, the Church has moved on to the continental stage. The first part was relatively easy to grasp: it began with local “listening sessions” and ended with national summaries of consultations. The continental stage is comparatively complex.

So, where are we up to?

No time for answers  The official synod website describes the continental stage as a chance to deepen the process of listening and discernment on a continental level, guided by a working document known as the Document for the Continental Stage.

The stage revolves around seven “continental assemblies” — taking place in Europe, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania — which will each produce a final document by March 31.

The synod website emphasizes that the stage is “not yet the time to suggest answers, nor to decide on courses of action.” Rather, it is a moment for “formulating open questions more accurately” and fleshing out “the insights coming from the local Churches, now at a continental perspective.”

Continental contrasts  The continental stage is hard to follow as each geographical region is taking a different approach.

In North America, for example, 10 virtual assemblies are being held. They will be followed by a “debrief session” in early February with a writing team which will then produce a synthesis document.

In Europe, participants will meet in the Czech capital, Prague. The two-part assembly will consist of an initial meeting of 200 delegates, with 390 joining online, on Feb. 5-9,  followed by a gathering of the continent’s 39 bishops’ conference presidents on Feb. 9-12.

Oceania advances  Catholics in Oceania will attend a continental assembly in Fiji on Feb. 5-9.

The continent’s four bishops’ conferences – Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea/Solomon Islands, and the Pacific – and the Eastern Catholic Churches have each submitted reports on the Document for the Continent Stage.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s 24-page report was based on contributions from around 750 people belonging to roughly 80 groups.

The text offers a list of “priorities and calls to action,” including the “inclusion of those ‘outside the tent,’” “addressing inequality and recognition of women in the Church,” and “reform of Church structures, governance, and liturgy.”

  • “Some participants expressed a desire for liturgical reforms that reflect contemporary theology,” it noted. “The proposed reforms covered a wide range of topics, including a better translation of the Missal, inclusive language, lay people giving homilies, flexibility in different contexts, and recognition of various cultures, including Australia’s First Nations peoples. Overall, it was agreed that liturgy should always allow for active participation and be inclusive and open to all.”

A bellwether stage  The continental stage is likely to generate less buzz than the other major parts of the Synodal Process: the diocesan phase and the “universal phase,” when bishops gather at the Vatican for a two-part assembly. It’s an in-between stage that won’t generate any firm conclusions.

But it will still be worth watching as it brings together contrasting currents in the Church and may give an early indication of which tendencies are likely to dominate when the process heads to Rome.

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

🇺🇸   The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will permit retail pharmacies to sell abortion pills for the first time.

🇩🇪  German Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt has called a priest’s Christmas homily addressing sexual morality “ill-considered and irresponsible” (German report).

🇨🇭  A Swiss public prosecutor’s office has reportedly opened criminal proceedings against René Brülhart, the former president of the Vatican’s financial watchdog (French report, German report).

🇦🇪 Archbishop Christophe Zakia El-Kassis will be the first nuncio resident in the UAE.

🇮🇳  Indian police have made five arrests in connection with a mob attack on a Catholic church.

🇸🇸  A bishop has urged South Sudan’s leaders to resume peace talks in Rome.

🇨🇴  Colombia’s bishops have welcomed the government’s decision to agree to a cease-fire with rebel groups (Spanish report).

📅  Coming soon

Jan. 5  Funeral Mass of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI (booklet).

Jan. 6  Pope celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the feast of the Epiphany at 10 a.m. and recites the Angelus at noon.

Jan. 7  Maronite Church leader Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi begins first pastoral visit to U.K.

Jan. 8  Pope celebrates Mass in the Sistine Chapel and baptizes infants in the Sistine Chapel at 9:30 a.m. on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and recites the Angelus at noon.

Jan. 9  Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (US).

Jan. 11  Funeral of Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr held in Ghana; Indian Cardinal George Alencherry due to appear before Kerala High Court.

Jan. 14 Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco turns 80.

Jan. 21  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; Meeting of Portuguese-speaking bishops’ meeting begins in Nampula, Mozambique.

Have a happy feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

-- Luke

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