The questioner had recently read this article, and understandably was disturbed by it https://blog.canberradeclaration.org.au/2019/11/25/australia-my-country-the-smoking-ceremony-and-its-effects
I mistakenly thought that his worries were due to this report about the recent Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Perth http://bernardgaynor.com.au/2019/12/18/observations-from-the-australian-catholic-youth-festival/
That's one side of things.
Then there is this other side summed up by St John Paul II in his address to Australian indigenous peoples: "You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others."
and also in
Both of these positive visions are worth re-reading slowly.
How I replied to my friend went something like this. When it comes to these ceremonies, intention matters, and the careful selection of who leads them matters. As always we need to discern if malice is intended, and if so, to act decisively against that.
Yet we are also called to embrace the good in the cultures that we find, and to preserve and use that good. The Maori's have greatly enriched New Zealand, and the world, with their wisdom, rituals of welcome and the Haka.
So what we are looking for is a carefully discerned 'both/and' not an either/or; and I do recognise that we all shy away from the things that are strange to us.
There are plenty of examples of bad inculturation around, which means that we have to do better and work harder at producing healthy inculturation which is genuine and not just done because it is seen as being politically correct.
When it comes to 'Welcome to Country', there are good values worth preserving. It is good for us to acknowledge that we are part of a continuum, and that we owe much to those who have gone before us, whether they Aboriginal elders past and present, or whether they are the ones who built our parishes, schools, shopping centres and transport infrastructure. We inherit legacy from both sides, and as we partake of the fruits of those labours of theirs, it is only right and just to acknowledge and give thanks for that – although we should go further and actually pray for them too, and for ourselves that the dreams and visions that God implanted in them for this city, municipality, school, parish, diocese, recreation area would be completely fulfilled.
It would do us all good to grow in this type of respect. In the lives of St John Francis Regis and St John Vianney we read that whenever they came to a parish or diocesan boundary they would pray and invoke the assistance of the holy angel to whose care that parish or diocese had been entrusted.
Smoking ceremonies and indigenous sprinkling rites I admit I am more ambivalent about, firstly after reading about the possible dark sides of those rites, and secondly because we have legitimately good holy water that is far more spiritually effective anyway if used in faith.
However I admit that the more bush fire seasons I live through, the more the symbol of smoke as cleansing and uniting becomes meaningful. Smoke speaks of facing unknown dangers together in solidarity. Smoke speaks of the abundant renewal that comes to our bushland once a bush fire has come through it. Smoke speaks of holding onto what is essential as you rebuild life after a fire, and letting go of what is not essential. Smoke speaks of managing resources for the good of all generations, by regularly keeping the build-up of undergrowth under control with hazard reduction fires. It makes sense to substitute sprinkling rites in places where there is high fire danger.
Definitely there are good values embedded in these ceremonies, but we do need to exercise prudence and get any chants and indigenous language used in them translated carefully from several translators.
It certainly doesn't hurt for us to relearn the truths that our actions have both natural and spiritual consequences, to learn greater respect for the Holy Spirit and to remove anything occult from our lives.
There are still treasures from indigenous culture that have yet to be fully valued, evaluated in light of the Gospel and welcomed into the kingdom of God. And there are still treasures of the Gospel that have yet to have their turn of enriching indigenous culture. We still have much to learn on both sides.
May the Holy Spirit and the holy angels of God always assist us as we take up this challenge. Amen.
St John Paul the great, pray for us.
St Paul VI, pray for us.
All holy friends of God from the Australian indigenous nations, pray for us.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.