Padninthi Indigenous pilgrimage launched

Former Adelaide YCW chaplain, Fr Tom Gleeson, is working with the local Indigenous community in Willunga, South Australia, to develop a new pilgrimage path known as Padninthi, or “walking together along the Tjilbruke Dreaming Story.”

Among the Indigenous community leaders involved is Australian Synod on Synodality participant, John Lochowiak, who is of of the Walker clan, who have blood relations with the Kaurna, Ramijarri and Ngarrindjeri people, and also of Polish descent.

Below we present the talk Fr Tom delivered at the inauguration of the pilgrimage on 10 March 2023.

Ngatjo Yakkanandalya, ngatjo Yungandalya nga buddna Kaurna yattina.

This is our local Kaurna language. It means: My Dear Sisters, My Dear Brothers, this is Kaurna

The Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains of South Australia, who have lived on this land for many thousands of years, received a new Dreaming (a term describing the complex spiritual connection of our first nations people to Country) called Tjilbruke, meaning ‘hidden fire’, at the end of the last ice age. This ‘hidden fire’ has guided them through the last ten thousand years and as I think of the Plenary Council’s decision to accept the invitation of the First Nations
People to ‘walk with them’ in the spirit of reconciliation, this ‘hidden fire’ seems to be kindling a new fire within my heart; and it demands that I speak and share it with you. As I do, I want to recall some of the words of our Popes and others who help me reflect on my experiences.

Pope John Paul II, addressed the Aboriginal community in Alice Springs in 1986, where he said:

But for thousands of years, you have lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. And during all this time, the spirit of God has been with you. Your “dreaming” which influences your lives so strongly that, no matter what happens, you remain forever people of your culture, is your only way of touching the mystery of God’s spirit in you and in creation. You must keep your striving for God and hold on to it in your lives. Your culture which shows the lasting genius, and dignity of your race must not be allowed to disappear.

How can we as Australian Christians support the recovery and development of this sacred ancient culture in our liturgy and our church today?

Bernard Häring, a leading moral theologian of the twentieth century, who taught Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, and was also the theologian whom Pope John XXIII thanked for the work he did for the Second Vatican Council. In his last book, My Hope for The Church, Bernard Häring speaks about inculturation, or the adaptation of the Christian liturgy to a non-Christian cultural background. He makes the following vital point:

Objectively speaking, the Vatican has not only made foolish mistakes on the subject of inculturation it has out and out sinned by a monstrous excess of regulation. This is most obvious through its harsh imposition of the Latin Rite, Roman Canon Law and European theology (p. 54).

The Vatican continues to sin in this regard, and the bishops of Australia ensure that this sin is perpetuated here in every diocese of Australia. Häring goes on to suggest an initial process to correct this situation and open doors to healing and reconciliation and says there are two crucial points:

– First the profound realisation of the simplicity of biblical thinking, above all of the Gospels.

– The second prerequisite is a loving and thorough knowledge of each individual
nation, intimacy with the thinking and feeling of the people along with respect for all cultures.

In his address to all of us, Pope Francis echoes Pope John Paul II and Bernard Häring when he says within paragraph 144 of Laudato Si:

There is a need to respect the rights of people and culture and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their own proper culture. Nor can the notion of the quality of life be imposed from without. All quality of life must be understood within the world of symbols and customs proper to each group.

Pope Francis continues: ‘In this sense it is essential to show the special care for Indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.’ (paragraph 146).

Considering the above, I wonder whether we can truly listen to the invitation of the First Nations People of this country and engage in meaningful dialogue with them towards ‘a better future”? (Uluru Statement from the Heart). Can we consent to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and open our hearts and minds to this call?

Fr Denis Edwards, who died in 2019, wrote in his final book, Deep Incarnation:

The spirit is the energy of love that enables the universe to emerge and light to evolve.

The spirit is at work within the word of God in the processes that gave rise to the
observable universe in the big bang and the primordial hydrogen and helium.

Fr Denis Edwards goes on to quote Karl Rahner SJ: ‘Humans emerge into a universe that is a world of grace, a world in which the spirit is always present in self offering love.’

Here in Australia this is most profoundly evident, as Pope John Paul II reminded us earlier.

In his book, Alcheringa, Fr Rod Cameron speaks of the Dreaming. Fr Cameron, who worked in Cape York between 1950 and 1990, writes:

To walk anywhere in this sacred land is to walk where the ancients walked.
To learn anything about this sacred land is to move into the mystery of God.
To be open to the moods of this ancient land is to become a child of the universe.
To live in communion with this land is to carry the stigma of light.
Beyond all the dreaming in this land is a yearning, burning love.
Every blade of grass is blessed, every trembling leaf caressed.
Every leaf of every tree is blessed, we are loved.

So, my sisters and brothers, when I think then of ourselves wanting to be a creative and life-giving contributor to the words from the Plenary Council, an effective way of being this Good News and celebrating this within Australia, we are deeply challenged by the words and passions of these leaders. If we are to be truly: ‘Good News’ in this land, it is time for us to honour our Indigenous culture, to listen with the First Nations People, to the ‘Spirit of the Land’. This sacred
land, this Holy Land. We speak of the ‘Holy Land’ as a place over there in Palestine or in Israel and it is a Holy Land. But this land is Holy too. As we say each time, we celebrate Eucharist:

‘Heaven and Earth are full of God’s glory’.

Here in my diocese, I have walked up on Mount Hayfield, the Holy Mountain where ‘Divine Wisdom’ revealed the dreaming of Tjilbruke to the listening heart of the Kaurna, Ramindjeri, Ngarrindjeri, and Peramangk peoples. The ‘hidden fire’ that kindled the hearts of all of these people, held them, guided them and enabled them to relate to one another on Earth, and to form creative communities that lived and respected each other and this Country. I walked this
sacred dreaming track, some 400 kilometers, and experienced the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. In the ‘hidden fire’, Jesus came to light.

We have come to this land wanting to impose a Roman culture, we use a book that is called a Roman Missal. Recently I addressed a significant Catholic Kaurna Elder and I said to him, “What do you think about this liturgy that we use?” He said, tellingly: “When in Rome, do what the Romans do”.

In my soul I heard him, and I said: “My brother, you are so right, this Book, this Roman Missal, belongs to Rome and when in Rome we should use it. Here in Australia, we walk on this sacred land, we are given such a rich heritage here, if only we would listen”.

A wise and well-known Elder from up at Daly River, Miriam Rose Ungunmerr, said, “We are not listened to, there is just no opportunity given to our people”.

From Uluru these people have extended an invitation to us; to all of Australia, to walk together in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. Surely the Spirit of God is wanting to awaken us as Christians, to walk with them on this land, to be a living sacrament of this love.The presence of Jesus kindles this hidden fire’ to all who dare to open their hearts, that we may walk this Country as a living sacrament, united to all.

Bill Gammage, author of The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, concludes with these words:

This book interrupts law and country at the moment when terra nullius came and an ancient philosophy was destroyed by the completely unexpected, an invasion of new people and ideas. A majestic achievement ended, only fragments remain. For the people of 1788 the loss was stupefying. For the newcomers it did not seem great. Until recently few noticed that they had lost anything at all. Knowledge of how to sustain Australia, of how to be Australian, vanished with barely a whisper of regret.

We have a continent to learn. If we are to survive, let alone feel at home, we must begin to understand our country, if we succeed, one day we might become Australian.

I wonder, can we walk the humble path of Jesus on this land? Will our National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council leaders help us learn?

My Sisters and Brothers if we are seriously consenting to the Uluru ‘Invitation’ in response to the question: What is God asking of us? We need to be open to a real relationship with our Indigenous people. Will we listen when Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis, Bernard Häring, Miriam Rose and others, tell us that this culture is sacred, that this land is holy?

When Fr Rod Cameron writes, ‘beyond all of the dreaming in this land, is a yearning, burning love’, I believe its yearning and burning in the hearts of people. An Australian people, Catholic or otherwise, religious or not, they know this fire in their hearts. I hear the call for us to create an Australian liturgy, respecting our Indigenous culture, engaging, and listening deeply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If we do this, I believe we will open an exciting future for all Australians and discover something more of the life and energy of the Good News of Jesus.

Jesus, you came to light a fire and my brother, my Saviour, you have kindled that fire in each of us. You call us to be true sisters and brothers to each other, but we cannot be true sisters and brothers on this land if we continue to impose this ‘Roman’ liturgy and this Roman European patriarchal culture with its Canon Laws here in Australia.

We must learn anew, the law of your love, the compassion of your heart and begin to be Australian people, and bring alive what it is to be truly catholic (universal people), to be true to the Gospel in the light of this land, this holy land, this land of the Holy Spirit.

Within Love,
Tom Gleeson.
Priest in residence
South Australia.


Nat Rogers, Southern Cross



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