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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 feasts:  The Epiphany of the Lord (marked Jan. 8 in the U.S.), St. André Bessette.

📜 Today’s readings:  1 Jn 5:5-13  ▪  Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20  ▪  Mk 1:7-11.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Pope Francis said that faith is a “continuous journey in constant dialogue with the Lord” as he celebrated an Epiphany Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica (full text, full video, photos).

2:  U.S. President Joe Biden has visited the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C., to pay his respects to Benedict XVI.

3:  German bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing has said that when discussing the “synodal way” with Pope Francis he has “never heard a stop” (German report).

4:  Ed Condon, Rod Dreher, Andrea Gagliarducci, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Lucetta Scaraffia, and Michael Sean Winters reflect on Benedict XVI’s funeral.

5:  America Magazine editors, Msgr. Patrick Burke, Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles, Fr. Robert P. Imbelli, Fr. Federico Lombardi, Kathryn Jean Lopez, Daniel J. Mahoney, Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, Chad Pecknold, Christopher Ruddy, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, Bishop Erik Varden, and Michael Warsaw pay tribute to the German pope.

6:  Ken Chitwood says that a new translation of the Bible is causing uproar in Norway.

7:  And Mel Gibson will reportedly begin filming “Passion of the Christ: Resurrection” in late spring.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Christmas truce?  On Jan. 5, as the Catholic world’s eyes were turned to the funeral of Benedict XVI, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church issued a brief statement.

  • “I, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,” it said, “appeal to all parties involved in the internecine conflict to cease fire and establish a Christmas truce from 12:00 p.m. Jan. 6 to 12:00 a.m. Jan. 8, so the Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and on the day of the Nativity of Christ.”

By “internecine conflict,” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow meant the war in Ukraine, which has claimed thousands of lives since Russia’s full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022.

Shortly after the Patriarch issued his proposal, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to observe a 36-hour cease-fire in Ukraine.

  • “Taking into account the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation to introduce a ceasefire regime along the entire line of contact of the parties in Ukraine from 12.00 on Jan. 6, 2023, to 24.00 on Jan. 7, 2023,” he said.

He added: “Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and allow them to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day.”

Parting ways  The cease-fire declaration highlights Orthodox Christianity’s significant role in Europe’s biggest conflict since the Second World War. Both Russia and Ukraine are majority Orthodox Christian countries. But the war is putting unprecedented pressure on existing religious ties.

On Dec. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced a major crackdown on local Orthodox communities affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate. The announcement followed raids on monasteries and chanceries belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP).

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), the other major Orthodox communion in Ukraine, permitted its members to mark Christmas on Dec. 25 for the first time, a notable break with the Russian Orthodox tradition of celebrating the feast on Jan. 7.

‘Little Kremlin devils’  Ukrainian leaders swiftly rejected the cease-fire appeal. In his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskyy accused Russia of using the Christmas initiative as “a cover” to slow Ukrainian forces’ momentum and strengthen its own military position.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted: “What does a bunch of little Kremlin devils have to do with the Christian holiday of Christmas? Who will believe an abomination that kills children, shells maternity homes, and tortures prisoners?”

On the day the cease-fire appeal was issued, Ukrainian Greek Catholic leader Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk published a pastoral letter urging the faithful to “celebrate Christmas more than ever” amid the war.

  • “This year, when in the Ukrainian sky the enemy is trying to cancel out the radiance of the Christmas star with its missiles and bombs, we should pay attention not to the calendar, not to astronomical phenomena, but to the fact that Christ came today to be born in the body of a tortured, crucified, and wounded Ukraine,” he wrote.

“Perhaps it sounds paradoxical,” he added, “but our victory in this war will come not by the power of the mighty of this world, but by the newborn Divine Child.”

What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.

🤔 Friday quiz

How well do you know the life of Benedict XVI? (Answers below).

1. Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn, Germany, in _____.

2. His older brother, Georg, became a renowned _____.

3.  Fr. Ratzinger attended Vatican II as a _____.

4.  In 1977, he was appointed archbishop of _____.

5.  He loved to play the _____.

6.  He was called to Rome in 1981 to serve as prefect of the _____.

7.  In 1985, his book-length interview with Italian journalist Vittorio Messori, entitled _____, caused a sensation in the Catholic Church.

8.  Following his election as pope in 2005, his first journey outside Italy was to _____.

9.  He made his 2013 resignation announcement in the _____ language.

10.  As pope emeritus, he lived at the _____ Monastery in Vatican City.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  Around 17,000 people are attending SEEK23 in St. Louis, Missouri (Kiki Hayden).

🇲🇽  Mexico’s bishops have called for a day of prayer following an outburst of violence in Sinaloa (Spanish report).

🇮🇷  One of Iran’s most prominent Armenian Orthodox churches has canceled its Christmas celebrations.

🇮🇳  Police have now arrested 10 people in connection with a mob attack on a Catholic church in Central India.

🇪🇹  Ethiopian Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun has described the humanitarian situation in his diocese as “alarming.”

🇳🇿  A retired bishop has said that the Church in New Zealand’s approach to the Māori people has created “serious unintended side-effects.”

🇰🇷 Seoul Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taek has appealed to Catholics “to live as a ‘newly starting church’” in 2023.

📅  Coming soon

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. Rome time 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.

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.

Friday quiz answers: 1. 1927; 2. Choir conductor; 3. Peritus, or theological adviser; 4. Munich and Freising; 5. Piano; 6. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; 7. The Ratzinger Report; 8. Cologne, Germany; 9. Latin; 10: Mater Ecclesiae.

Have a very happy feast of the Epiphany.

-- Luke

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