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Australian Catholic youth festival appears to receive pagan blessing by guest speaker

'May all the gods bless you and may all our spirits give you goosebumps, not just today but for the rest of your lives, and we know then we’re on the right path.'
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'Sean,' a speaker at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival who told attendees, 'may all the gods bless you.' YouTube
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Paul Smeaton By Paul Smeaton

Paul Smeaton By Paul Smeaton

PERTH, Australia, December 16, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A Catholic youth festival organized by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) was addressed by a speaker who appeared to invoke a pagan blessing over attendees.

The festival began with a “Welcome to Country” ceremony, a ceremony often performed in Australia by Aboriginal people welcoming others to their “traditional land.” At the conclusion of his ceremony, the speaker said: “May all the gods bless you and may all our spirits give you goosebumps, not just today but for the rest of your lives, and we know then we’re on the right path.”

A series of official videos of the festival have been posted to YouTube, including the whole of the “Welcome to Country” ceremony. According to the description in the video on YouTube, there were 5,000 people in attendance at the festival.

LifeSite understands that the man who led the ceremony is not a Catholic. He made no reference to Jesus Christ or to the Church during the 10-minute ceremony.

In the video, there is a caption displayed that suggests that the speaker’s name is Richard Walley. Richard Walley is the man who claims to have first performed a “Welcome to Country” ceremony to non-indigenous Australians. The speaker at the festival does not appear to be Richard Walley, though. At one point in the speech, he referred to himself as “Sean.” 

Sean referred to the earth as “mother” several times during his talk and also told the festival attendees that “everything is connected,” a phrase that was used by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’.

After making a brief reference to the season of Christmas and presents placed under Christmas trees, he told the audience: “You are one of the greatest gifts that the universe and mother gave to itself.”

Then after asking all the attendees to lock arms with the people next to them, he appeared to speak directly to what he called “the old people.” Speaking sometimes in an Aboriginal language and at other times in English, he said:

If you see our countrymen on country they’ll come up to the sand and go like this here [speaker kneels down and acts out rubbing his hands on the ground and then on his body] “Don’t forget me, Mother.” And we rub everything on us because everything turns to dust. When we put the ochre on our body and our sand and our dirt and our ashes of trees, everything is connected. And we show our great country. ‘Can you see me, Spirit Country?’ For there… is where everything is connected, never separated. And we now say to those old people...Bad spirit go away, we don’t need you right now…Good spirit come sit, not on the air but on our skin…and when you feel the goosebumps going over your body, hopefully transferring from one to another, that’s the old people dancing with your spirit child inside you. Everything is born with a spirit that unites us instantly.”

When “Sean” concluded his speech, he then began playing a didgeridoo while a young Aboriginal lady appeared on the stage. The young lady introduced a speech that she said was from her “grandmother” that was then played over speakers. The speech repeatedly mentioned the “spirit.” It is unclear to which spirit the speech was referring.

The recording also seemed to be critical of the idea of praying to God in a church, and to cast doubt on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist in Catholic churches.

Young lady begins: My grandmother told me about the spirit in this land and this is what she said….

Recording begins: My mother told me they close their eyes in church. They go in there and they talk to spirit. This one they call God. Must be the same one ‘long you and me and they started to work out that there’s spirituality here. It’s a bit different and she couldn’t understand they make a grand building especially to go in on Sunday to talk to the spirit. And every other day of the week they can go and do whatever they wanted to. And she said “poor silly buggers! They make a house for this one to go in and talk. He’s not going to lock up there. He’s everywhere: he’s in the bush, he’s where we’re fishing, he’s where we’re hunting. Every second of the day we’re answerable to that spirit.”

Both “Sean” and the young Aboriginal lady who performed the second part of the “Welcome to Country ceremony” wore paint on their faces. Body paint is used for various purposes in Aboriginal culture, including playing a key element in non-Christian religious ceremonies. At another time in the festival, Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green, who is not of Aboriginal heritage, also wore Aboriginal paint on his face while speaking to the youths.

The official website for the festival gives four bullet points explaining the purpose of the event. It says:

The Australian Catholic Youth Festival exists to:

  • Provide a high quality formative and experiential opportunity for young Catholics to encounter Jesus Christ, in the context of the Catholic Church in Australia;
  • Listen to and discuss the issues and challenges in the lives of young Catholics in Australia;
  • Evangelise young people and empower them to be evangelists;
  • Provide young people with local examples and connections of vocations, social action, liturgy and prayer, catholic music and catechesis.

‘Terrible scandal’ 

Several Catholic bishops attended the event, including Archbishop Timothy John Costelloe, SDB; Archbishop Mark Coleridge; Archbishop Julian Porteous, and Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green. 

LifeSiteNews is unaware of any comment or clarification having been made about the “Welcome to Country” ceremony by any of the event organizers or any of the bishops or priests present. Archbishop Coleridge has posted about the festival several times on his Twitter page, with all of the posts focused on videos of various dance acts performed during the event.

“It should be shocking that the Australian Catholic Youth Festival was opened with a blessing from ‘the gods,’” Bernard Gaynor, a Catholic layman and prominent commentator on the Catholic Church in Australia, told LifeSiteNews.

“However, it isn’t when we have so recently seen pagan idols brought into the Vatican,” he said, referencing the Amazon Synod’s Pachamama scandal.

“And it can hardly be a surprise when this festival started with a ‘Welcome to Country’ which is really the most central and modern public ritual of the pagan, animist, and pantheistic religion practised before Christianity arrived in Australia,” Gaynor continued.

“We live in a time of crisis for the Church. The youth need clear teaching and leadership. Instead they are being encouraged to abandon the central tenets of the faith,” he concluded. “It really is a terrible scandal that this Catholic festival opened in the most anti-Catholic way possible.”

During the closing Mass for the festival, a number of unusual elements were incorporated into the liturgy. While Archbishop Costelloe incensed the altar, he was accompanied by two young ladies who also appeared to be incensing the altar from small plates covered with flower petals. Prior to the Gospel being proclaimed, the cleric who read the Gospel appeared to wave the book of the Gospels in smoke coming from a fire which was blazing to one side of the altar. 

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