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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:  Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

📜 Today’s readings:  Rv 14:1-3, 4b-5  ▪  Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6  ▪  Lk 21:1-4.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  José María Villalón, head of Atlético Madrid’s medical services, has said he is “optimistic” that he and other specialists can help to alleviate Pope Francis’ knee pain (Spanish report).

2:  The pope sent a message to Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo leader Hebe de Bonafini before she died on Sunday, aged 93 (Spanish report).

3:  The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has faced 127 attacks this year, according to a new study (Spanish report).

4:  A Catholic priest has been detained in Belarus, according to Christian Vision (Belarusian report).

5:  San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone says he is “horrified at the hostility” toward U.S. crisis pregnancy clinics.

6: Andrea Gagliarducci argues that there’s a risk of “a Church that listens a lot, but teaches little.”

7:  And Bérengère de Portzamparc describes how two friends walked almost 1,000 miles to Rome, praying for the pope and vocations.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🔄  Weekend round-up

On Saturday, Nov. 19, Pope Francis traveled to the Italian city of Asti to mark a cousin’s 90th birthday. Earlier, he appointed a new archbishop in South Korea, met with the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, and attended a meeting promoted by the Italian Catholic NGO Doctors with Africa (CUAMM).

On Sunday, Nov. 20, the pope was made an honorary citizen of Asti, celebrated Mass at Asti Cathedral, and delivered an Angelus address lamenting the current “famine of peace.” The Comboni priest and doctor Giuseppe Ambrosoli was beatified in Uganda (Italian report).

🧐  Look closer

Belgium’s turn  Curial officials are welcoming more controversial guests to the Vatican this week, following the German bishops’ five-day visit to Rome. Belgium’s bishops began their ad limina trip on Monday morning with Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Bishops are expected to undertake a visit ad limina apostolorum (“to the threshold of the apostles”) every five years as an expression of their unity with the successor of St. Peter. But this is the Belgian episcopate’s first ad limina trip since 2010.

A press release from the Belgian Church explained that “the number of bishops in the world has become very large and, due to the delay caused by the pandemic, the visits are now made every 10 years.”

What’s the controversy?  The visit is being watched closely because Belgium’s Flemish bishops (but not their French-speaking counterparts) approved a text for same-sex blessings in September.

The document seemed to directly challenge the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which reaffirmed last year that the Church does not have the power to offer liturgical blessings for same-sex unions. But supporters argued that the text was in line with Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.

The Vatican did not react publicly in September, despite calls for swift intervention. Observers assumed that the Roman curia had decided to discuss the text behind closed doors during the Belgian bishops’ ad limina visit.

What’s next  The German bishops prepared meticulously for their visit, launching a “charm offensive” in Rome the month before. The Belgian bishops don’t appear to have taken similar steps. They may be relying on Pope Francis’ generally positive disposition toward the Belgian Church in comparison with the Church in Germany.

The pope is believed to have a good rapport with Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, who he named archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels in 2015 and made a cardinal a year later. This may help to dampen tensions between curial officials and the Belgian bishops over the same-sex blessings document.

One subtext of the ad limina visit is that De Kesel, the Primate of Belgium and president of Belgium’s bishops’ conference, submitted his resignation when he turned 75 in June. Although Pope Francis often leaves metropolitan archbishops in post beyond their 75th birthdays, De Kesel is said to favor retirement after a bout with colon cancer. The Belgian bishops’ visit may therefore give the pope a chance to size up De Kesel’s potential successors.

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

🇺🇸  Archbishop William Lori has said that an as yet unpublished report by Maryland’s attorney general is a “stark reminder of the sins of the Church’s ministers and the failures of the Church’s leaders to address those sins effectively.”

🇨🇴  The Catholic Church will not play an active role in peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN rebels, according to local media (Spanish report).

🇰🇪  A nun who died in the Precision airplane crash in Lake Victoria, Tanzania, has been buried in Kenya.

🇮🇩  Indonesian Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo has described the political exploitation of religion as “satanic.”

🇮🇪  Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said that the number of abuse allegations connected to Dublin’s Blackrock College is “frightening” (RTÉ).

🇷🇺  Vladimir Putin has congratulated Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill on his 76th birthday (Russian report).

🇳🇱  A new church has been consecrated in Almere, the Netherlands’ newest city, as parishes face closure elsewhere in the country (Dutch report).

📅  Coming soon

Nov. 22  St. Peter’s Basilica hosts discussion on Petrine primacy.

Nov. 23  Msgr. Alberto Perlasca faces three days of questioning in Vatican finance trial.

Nov. 25  Verdict in Cardinal Joseph Zen’s trial expected to be handed down.

Nov. 27  First Sunday of Advent.

Nov. 28  Oceania’s bishops hold online conference in preparation for their 2023 general assembly.

Nov. 30  Feast of St. Andrew.

Dec. 1  Benedict XVI due to receive 2022 Ratzinger Prize winners.

Dec. 3  Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene unveiled.

Dec. 4  First anniversary of Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow’s episcopal consecration.

Dec. 5  “Fruits of the Spirit” exhibit launched at London’s National Gallery.

Dec. 7  Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington turns 75.

Have a happy memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

-- Luke

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