Catholic scouts celebrate 10 years

  • May 22, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The Federation of North-American Explorers (FNE) in Toronto is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

European contacts who helped Canadians establish the Catholic faith-based youth movement were in Toronto this spring to share in the excitement.

“There is great potential here if we compare it with the Western countries,” said Giovanni Franchi, the Italian Federal President of the International Union of European Guides and Scouts (FSE) on which FNE bases its program.

“Here, we feel there is a greater sense of belonging to the Catholic Church, perhaps because there is greater (attachment) with the Protestant churches which we don’t have so much in Italy and France. Here, the ones who go to church are proud of their faith — it is not just a habit,” he said through a translator.

Giovanni added that the scout uniform seems to have a greater significance for Toronto’s youth, who are more ethnically diverse than the scouts in Europe. When they wear the uniform, they share a visible common identity.

FNE began in Canada when founder and group leader Paul Ritchi realized his involvement with Scouts Canada, although good and honest volunteer work lacked the spiritual component to make it personally fulfilling. In researching online, he came across the FSE, a Catholic scouting organization founded in Europe in 1956 with more than 55,000 members.

FNE scouts meet weekly like secular scouts and go on camping trips several times a year. But they also go on pilgrimages and receive the sacraments, and their fun and activities provide a sort of hands-on catechesis.

“Our youth and leaders grow not only in faith but in love, in service to others, being part of a family, taking part in an adventure, responsibility, commitment and keeping promises,” Ritchi said. “All that is done through stories, games, exploratory activities, building, following our peers (as leaders) and being influenced by each other (as a team).”

The FNE began with two leaders and about 10 boys between the ages of eight and 12, the “Timber Wolves.” It now has about 16 volunteer leaders and more than 100 youth in the Toronto archdiocese. That includes an Explorers group, ages 12 to 15, and a girls’ Timber Wolves group. FNE also has a Wayfarers group — graduates of the FNE Explorer Outdoor Education program as well as senior leaders from other Explorer sections.

“I think now we are on a plateau of fundamental growth; in the last 12 weeks, we’ve added one new member per week,” Ritchi said.

He hopes to grow the movement into three to five more groups in the next two years in Toronto and in the diocese of Peterborough.

Jacques Mougenot, the Federal Commissioner of FSE from France, said the group is doing so well because the format FSE uses can be easily exported across cultures.

“From the moment we use the proper tools to help them grow, well that works regardless of the culture or ethnicity,” he said.

Mougenot has consecrated a large part of his life to the movement in France and is encouraged by recent recognition it gained as an international private association of the faithful by the Holy See. He said that in his own experience, he has seen the movement inspire youth to evangelize their peers. One 13-year-old boy from his group approached him after a scamp and asked if he could be a team leader for a group of six boys he planned to bring in September. Mougenot learned that after the boy’s first year at the camp, he had returned home, asked his mother for a space in their basement which he repainted and used as a headquarters for teaching catechesis to boys he gathered from the streets in their at-risk neighbourhood.

“There are many testimonials that they are capable of works that are almost heroic,” he said.

Ritchi acknowledged that in Toronto he is also hearing positive feedback from the youth and their parents. Two Korean-born boys for example, shocked their parents by fasting from video games for the 40 days of Lent — an initiative they undertook by themselves after learning about the meaning of Lent and fasting at their FNE meeting.

“Kids come back from their meetings and parents say he’s picking up his belongings, he’s putting dishes away, he’s become more appreciative, more respectful and I’m hearing him say I love you ever since he became a scout,” Ritchi said.

For more information on the FNE Explorers, visit the web site .

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