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Pope Francis receives a Pachamama statue in the Vatican gardens during an indigenous ceremony, Rome, Oct. 4, 2019.Vatican News / video screen grab


(LifeSiteNews) – Upon visiting the indigenous peoples of Canada, Pope Francis will engage in what some are claiming is an innocent cultural ritual compatible with Catholic faith, but a closer look at the ritual reveals that it is a clear act of pagan superstition. 

The “smudging” ritual of native Canadian tribes, considered a “ritual of purification,” is planned to take place at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, the official parish for First Nations and Métis people in Edmonton since 1993.  

The ritual will be part of the Papal visit to the native tribes on Monday, July 25. It has been coordinated by Father Cristino Bouvette, priest of the Archdiocese of Calgary, Alberta, and Monsignor Diego Giovanni Ravelli, the Papal master of liturgical ceremonies. 

According to Crux now, Bouvette claims that the ritual will show a “sensitivity” on the part of the Pope to the indigenous “traditions.” Acknowledging that the rituals proposed stand “outside of any particular Catholic expression of faith,” he nonetheless argues that they “are certainly not contrary to it.” 

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“For Indigenous Catholics,” Bouvette said, “to see the Holy Father welcomed to some place like Sacred Heart Church by having smudged the space first, or facing the four directions to offer his blessing — as simple as those gestures may seem — clearly demonstrates a sensitivity on his part to their traditions which, though outside of any particular Catholic expression of faith, are certainly not contrary to it.” 

Smudging imitating ‘sacramentals’ 

Bouvette went on to explain that “the smudge that is being proposed at Sacred Heart holds a two-fold purpose: 1) To show recognition of the ritual in an observable/public way; and 2) As a ritual of purification in the space itself as a gesture of making the space ‘more hospitable’ to welcome the Holy Father as he arrives.” 

The priest further revealed the religious nature of the ritual by comparing it to the Catholic use of sacramentals. “In a Catholic context,” he said, “we could see the ritual of smudging as being akin to the use of certain of our sacramentals which are borne for personal, spiritual purposes, such as wearing the scapular or anointing with the oil of St. Joseph’s Oratory.”  

Personal purification or the purification of the space where the smudge is happening are the exclusive purposes of the ritual.

This raises a few obvious questions: what exactly is the ritual that will take place? Is it compatible with or innocuous to the Catholic faith? And if the latter, what kind of sin is it? 

Smudging honors ‘mother earth’ or ‘Pachamama’ 

The least research into the nature of the “smudging” ritual makes very clear that it is a ritual carried out as part of a pantheistic or polytheistic ritual of nature worship.  

One publicly available source on the “smudging” ritual, of which there many online, states that, 

as the smudging ritual is practiced, the smoke rises and so do the prayers to mother earth, father sky, to the sun and the moon, to the plants, the animals and the water… The purpose of this cleansing ritual is to clear away anxieties, sadness, impurities, dark thoughts or unwanted energies that may have attached themselves to a space or an individual.

So the ritual as commonly practiced includes the religious burning of smoke and prayers offered to the deities of nature, such as “mother earth,” or in another language, “Pachamama.” It is also carried out for the sake of the spiritual purification of a person or place, to clear away “unwanted energies.” 

Mention of “mother earth” comes up again in an explanation of the significance of the burning of tobacco in the ritual:  

Tobacco is a sacred medicine plant to all North American Indigenous Cultures. Tobacco is believed to be a gateway or a bridge between the Earth and Spirit realms. Historically if tobacco is offered and accepted, then there is a sacred promise sealed. It acts like a commitment made by people and supported by the Spirit World. Tobacco can be used as a way to thank Mother Earth or the Creator for the abundance and beauty we receive every day.

Another element that is burned in the ritual is a wood called Palo Santo, meaning “holy wood,” likened to the offering of incense. “It is used the same way as Sage and is burned and fanned with a feather to clear the air and ask the spirits for permission to perform the ritual.” 

Smudging kit

Again, according to online sources, prayers for the ritual may include the following invocations of “Mother Earth” and the elements of nature: 

“I cleanse my Eyes so they will see the Truth all around me, allow my eyes to see the beauty I receive from Mother Earth and the Love I create within my family and my communities. 

I cleanse my Mouth for truthful speaking. In my speaking words may I elevate my community. May I speak prayers of healing to Mother Earth. 

I cleanse my ears so that I may Listen fully to the wisdom passed down from my ancestors, the creator, the Earth and my Spirit Guides. May I be open to hear the good and allow any negativities to slide off me.” 

Smoke, air, fire, and earth, cleanse and bless this home and hearth.

Drive away harm and fear, only positive energy may enter here.” 

Finally, a prayer of expulsion of negativity, similar to the prayers of exorcism for the expulsion of demons, may also be offered:

The negativity of this sacred space, I expel you by using the light of my sacred grace. You hold no right or power here. I face and stand you without fear. 

A clearly religious ritual not of the Church 

The claim that such rituals, with whatever “traditional” pantheistic prayers accompany them, is not contrary to the faith defies acceptance. The ritual is clearly religious in its nature and origin. It includes the burning of a sacred smoke or incense, and actions accompanied by invocations of pagan indigenous nature gods.  

Even granting for a moment that the ritual is not religious in nature, the claim that “personal purification or the purification of the space where the smudge is happening are the exclusive purposes of the ritual,” acknowledges the fact that a spiritual effect is here being attributed to a merely physical action. What is ignored is that this fits exactly into the definition of superstition: the attributing of some spiritual effect—in this case the purification of a person or place—to a merely physical or bodily cause. If such a purification is thought to be equivalent to the Church’s sacraments or sacramentals, then these latter are also understood in a superstitious way. 

READ: Pope Francis urges young people to ‘shout,’ ‘make noise,’ eat less meat to help save the planet

The essential difference between what the Church does in her sacred rites, sacraments, and sacramentals, and the superstitious ceremonies and rituals of pagan religions, is that the Church has a supernatural principle by which grace is communicated when She uses bodily things or performs physical actions, like pouring water over the catechumen’s head in baptism. That supernatural principle is the spiritual authority that flows from the Person of Christ and the power of His saving death. It is Christ who gives the sacraments the power to communicate grace through bodily actions and things. 

To attempt to spiritually “purify” a person or place outside the order of grace established by Christ and His Church in the sacraments and sacred rites of Catholicism, constitutes not only the sin of superstition, but would also entail grave sacrilege, since both a consecrated Church and a consecrated bishop, the bishop of Rome, would be subjected to a pagan ritual of purification and would thereby actually be profaned. 

Finally, it should be noted that all the elements of the ritual being proposed have their Catholic counterpart. Within the order of grace established by Christ, there is way of being purified spiritually, there are many ways, in fact: baptism, confession, the blessing with holy water, the praying of the Our Father or act of contrition, the praying of the Penitential Psalms. Catholic worship includes the use of incense, but it is always blessed by a priest.  

The expulsion of demons and protection against them is found in the rites of exorcism, the St. Michael prayer, the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that of the saints. The invocation of the Holy Spirit in such prayers as the Veni Creator abounds in images taken from nature: “You who are called the Advocate, Gift of God most High, living fount, fire, love, and spiritual anointing.”  

Indeed, the Church lacks nothing that She needs for the salvation and purification of souls, even those of the indigenous peoples of Canada. 


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