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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. Saturninus.

📜 Today’s readings:  Is 11:1-10  ▪  Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17  ▪  Lk 10:21-24.

🗓 Today’s anniversary 90 years since the first apparition of Our Lady of Beauraing.  

🗞  Starting seven

1:  A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman has called the pope’s comments about the country’s ethnic minority troops “a perversion” (John Allen, Alexander Avdeev, Damba Ayusheev).

2:  Cardinal Mario Aurelio Poli, Pope Francis’ successor as archbishop of Buenos Aires, has turned 75 (Spanish article).

3:  The Prelate of Opus Dei has discussed the process of changing the personal prelature’s statutes with the pope.

4:  Reports claim that record numbers are formally leaving the Church in Germany’s Cologne archdiocese in 2022 (German report).

5:  Ed Condon asks if Beijing has decided it “can safely ignore Rome” after the second renewal of the Vatican-China deal (Andrea Gagliarducci, AP, Edward Pentin).

6:  Sandro Magister suggests that an article in La Civiltà Cattolica marks a “pivot” in the Holy See’s stance on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

7:  And Cardinal Robert Sarah discusses his new book on the spiritual life.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

  • No daily Vatican Bollettino published by press time.

🧐  Look closer

Belgian shepherds in Rome  Belgium’s bishops completed their first ad limina visit to Rome since 2010 last Friday. The five-day trip — which included a rare “interdicasterial meeting” with heads of Vatican departments — was almost as highly anticipated as that of the German bishops, which took place the week before.

The reason? Weeks before the trip, Belgian bishops published a document allowing for a ritual blessing of same-sex couples, in an apparent challenge to the Vatican’s doctrinal dicastery, which insists that the Church has no power to offer liturgical blessings for same-sex unions.

The Vatican did not immediately respond to the text, leading commentators to conclude that it would be discussed behind closed doors during the ad limina visit.

But did it feature in talks with curial officials?

What the bishops are saying  Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn, an auxiliary in the Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese, indicated that the document was discussed.

  • “Many issues were addressed — not only those where the press was hoping for polemical revelations. Yes, the question of the pastoral care of homosexuals was discussed with the dicasteries and the pope, but by rereading with them our official texts and not what some people wanted them to say,” he said.

The bishop noted that other topics addressed included married priests, women deacons, and polarization in the Church.

  • “In fact, this is the grace of Rome for us: it is that all pastoral, ethical, theological questions can be worked on, deepened, debated. This is not done without tension, but it is new: it is done in a more transversal way,” he remarked.

Bishop Lode Van Hecke of Ghent said he had a similar impression.

  • “I was struck by the open-mindedness and the sincere effort to meet each other in our differences because Belgium is a small but complicated country as everyone knows,” he noted.

Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt said that the bishops had a “real dialogue” with the pope on the final day, which touched on Belgium’s rapid secularization.

  • “I asked Pope Francis how we can reach young people in this highly secularized society and talk to them about faith,” he said. “The pope’s answer was clear: go out, give young people the opportunity to discover how to really care for others. Then they will also be more open to the riches of the faith. The pope challenged us to visit people often ourselves.”

Belgian bishops’ conference president Cardinal Jozef De Kesel also highlighted the topic of secularization.

  • “Today we evangelize and we are Church in a society that is no longer Christian as a whole. How are we present in that society? That is one of our great challenges. It is important to make that clear,” he said. “One should not judge us with criteria from the past. We had a real and sincere exchange of views on that. I could say freely what I wanted, in an atmosphere of fraternity and respect. Also about pastoral care for homosexuals, for example. We could explain that we want to help those people.”

What’s next  It’s unclear whether the status of the same-sex blessings text has changed in any way as a result of last week’s discussions. But Pope Francis did give the bishops some broad marching orders.

According to a blog chronicling the trip, the pope told them: “Stay close to God, in prayer. Stay close to one another. Stay close to your priests and other co-workers. And stay close to the holy people of God.”

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

🇺🇸  A Catholic community in Covington, Louisiana, has been “rocked” by reports of a double homicide.

🇲🇽  Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said that he is opposed to a ban on Nativity scenes in public spaces (Spanish report).

🇺🇦  Russian militia have arrested two Catholic priests in occupied Donetsk.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿  Christians are officially a minority in England and Wales, according to new census figures.

🇮🇹  Cardinal Matteo Zuppi has criticized an Italian senator who cited the Book of Leviticus while discussing homosexuality (Italian report).

🇻🇦  The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has issued a document offering guidelines for Catholic investors.

🇬🇭  Bishops have expressed alarm at the “dwindling” number of Catholics in Ghana.

📅  Coming soon

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 ordination.

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

Dec. 7  Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington turns 75.

Dec. 8  Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; Pope Francis’ act of veneration of Mary Immaculate; Worldwide Women’s Rosary.

Have a happy feast of St. Saturninus.

-- Luke

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