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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 saint:  St. John of God (Roman Martyrology).

📜 Today’s readings:  Jer 18:18-20 ▪  Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16 ▪  Mt 20:17-28.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  At today’s general audience, Pope Francis stressed that “every baptized person participates in the mission of the Church” (full text, photos, video).

2:  Notre-Dame de Paris will reopen to worshipers and visitors at the end of 2024, French officials have told AP.

3:  Fr. Marko Rupnik, who is prohibited by the Jesuits from public ministry, reportedly concelebrated Mass at a Roman basilica on Sunday (Italian report).

4:  Poland’s bishops’ conference has issued a statement saying that “a fair assessment” of John Paul II’s actions as archbishop of Kraków “requires further archival research,” after a documentary claimed that the future pope covered up abuse cases.

5:  Iacopo Scaramuzzi argues that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine “threw Francis’ Ostpolitik into crisis” (Italian article, John Allen).

6:  Controversial Australian philosopher Peter Singer suggests that “a movement for change” in Catholic teaching on contraception “is underway.”

7:  And Pope Francis has traveled roughly the same number of miles as a trip to the moon during the 10 years of his pontificate.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Brazil’s moment?  There is a cynical saying, often attributed to Charles de Gaulle, that “Brazil is the country of the future and always will be.”

But several factors suggest that the moment may be approaching when Brazil takes a more prominent place on the global Catholic stage.

The most recent was yesterday’s appointment of Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha to Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals.

Cardinal who?  Cardinal da Rocha is the 63-year-old Archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia and the Primate of Brazil. He served as president of Brazil’s bishops’ conference from 2015 to 2019, receiving the red hat from Pope Francis in 2016.

After Francis was heavily criticized by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in 2018, da Rocha sent a personal letter of support to the pope. The cardinal presided in 2021 at a Mass in memory of murdered members of the LGBT community.

Da Rocha is one of eight Brazilian cardinals, six of whom are eligible to vote in a future conclave. He is arguably less well known outside Brazil than Rio’s Cardinal Orani João Tempesta and São Paulo’s Cardinal Odilo Scherer, both of whom are roughly 10 years his senior.

World’s No. 1  New Church statistics published a few days ago suggested that Brazil remains a Catholic powerhouse, despite a major shift in favor of Pentecostal churches.

  • Summarizing the figures, L’Osservatore Romano noted that 48% of the world’s Catholics live in the Americas. “Of these, nearly 57% reside in South America, 27% in Brazil alone, which remains the country with the highest proportion of baptized Catholics in the world: nearly 180 million of Brazil’s population units are of the Catholic faith,” it said.

Other estimates put Brazil’s Catholic population at 123 million ⁠— still the largest of any country.

If “demography is destiny,” then the country’s influence in the worldwide Church should be growing. (Though it’s worth noting that only 8% of Brazilian Catholics regularly attend Mass, the same proportion as in secular France.)

Synodal experience  Another sign of Brazil’s rising profile is that it’s ahead of the synodal curve compared with many other countries. Brazilian Church leaders played a notable part in 2019’s Amazon synod. The assembly’s final document called for a “synodal conversion,” a theme that Pope Francis has extended to the worldwide Church through the 2021-24 synodal process.

When the world’s bishops meet for the synod on synodality in Rome in October, the experienced Brazilian delegation is likely to play a confident role in proceedings.

The Francis factor Finally, it’s easy to overlook a seemingly obvious fact: Francis is the world’s first Latin American pope. As such, he’s deeply familiar with Brazilian Catholicism.

His first trip outside Italy was to World Youth Day in Rio, and he has praised Brazilian Catholics for, among other things, a Lenten solidarity campaign and their outreach to the Amazonian peoples.

All this suggests that the pope could be open to a bigger Brazilian influence in the global Church in the years to come.

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

🇺🇸  California bishops have visited death row inmates at San Quentin State Prison.

🇨🇲  A priest has been kidnapped and killed in Cameroon.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿  🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿  Members of the House of Commons have voted 116-299 to criminalize all forms of “influence” — including silent prayer — near abortion facilities in England and Wales.

🇻🇦  The Vatican and Greece have finalized a deal to return three fragments of Parthenon sculptures.

🇮🇹  Representatives of Italian Catholic communities have sent a letter backing Germany’s synodal way ahead of the initiative’s final plenary assembly (German text).

🇫🇷  Coadjutor Bishop Bruno Valentin will succeed 74-year-old Bishop Alain Planet at the helm of the French Diocese of Carcassonne and Narbonne on April 4 (French report, full text).

🇧🇪  A debate has broken out in Belgium after a group of Catholics in Liège published a booklet calling for the abolition of the clergy (French report, bishop’s statement).

📅  Coming soon

March 9 Fifth and final synodal assembly of Germany’s synodal way begins; Cardinal Michael Czerny speaks at Gonzaga University.

March 10  Members of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) celebrate Masses for peace in Ukraine; The research project “More Women’s Leadership for a Better World: Care as a Driver for our Common Home” is presented in Rome, with a preface by Pope Francis.

March 13  10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election; Polish bishops’ plenary meeting begins.

March 17  Pope Francis presides at a “24 Hours for the Lord” event at Rome’s parish of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale, at 4:30 p.m. local time.

March 19  10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ inauguration.

March 31  Episcopal ordination of Bishop-elect Anthony C. Celino at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso, Texas.

Have a happy feast of St. John of God.
-- Luke

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