The « Charter of natural and Christian principles of European Scouting » is one of the « core texts of UIGSE-FSE ». Bruno Rondet presents here his reflections about this important federal document.
Text of article 5
“Scouting considers life and game activities in the open is as a major and unique part of its method. It doesn’t limit man to a «giant do-it-yourself man». It believes that Nature should first be contemplated, then restored rather than transformed: it intends to educate young people to humility, to a poverty spirit and to a sense of free service by using simple means, accessible to all, which develop good judgment, skill, know-how, and a sense of harmony, thus excluding the use of expensive and thrilling techniques which result in illusions”.
1/. The key to successful scouting, according to father Jacques Sevin
The key to successful scouting, as father Jacques Sevin teaches us, is to bring SIMULTANEOUSLY to the participants an answer to their needs of CONTEMPLATION and of ACTION. But before acting, one must be, because action comes after being. So, even if scouting takes place in the open, the essence of the method does not lie first in techniques but in the moral and spiritual aspects underpinning each moment of camp life. These permanent aspects of scout life (codified by the scout law) will make it successful. One only needs to open father Jacques Sevin’s key book “Scouting”¹, in chapter IX, called “camp life”. Father Sevin does not linger on material aspects but insists constantly on the moral and spiritual aspects of life at camp. Here are some significant extracts:
“In Catholic troops, a tent-chapel often stands at the place of honour” (p. 107).
“A typical day at camp. At 6 a.m, drum awakening, personal washing and immediately afterwards prayer: for its influence upon the day, it has to be first. The following prayer, biblical and poetic, is said by the camp master or by the priest: “Almighty God, who have spread upon our heads the sky as a tent, look graciously at your sons who stand up at the dawn of a new day. Take off from this camp all that offends you and unite us in mutual service, so that this day may be lived in friendship and great joy. Through
Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen”. Incidentally, let us precise that a Catholic troop will preferably camp near a church, in order to attend mass every day. Obviously, there is a huge gap, concerning the moral atmosphere, with a camp where boy scouts attend only the Sunday mass. When a scoutmaster sees the three quarters of his troop receive the holy communion with him every day, he can be peaceful” (p. 109).
“This is why the chief must know his boys and refuse those who joined the troop in the latest months only. Philip Carrigton, a scoutmaster, said : “You cannot accept even one boy if you are not sure of him : he may spoil the two-thirds of the camp”. And among the clear signs, he places frank and friendly discipline : “You must require obedience at the first word. A boy who does not reach this level is a failed scout and a troop that does not reach this level does not offer any safety for the camp” (pp. 114 and 115).
“When the law is considered seriously and applied supernaturally, it acts as a stabilizer with a consistent effect upon the souls of teenagers who are a bit fascinated by this impression of total absence of constraints when they live in the open” (p.115).
For a scoutmaster, Christian sense must always be first: “Without it, scouting is dangerous and camping will only be, most of the time, an efficient means of perversion for the youngest boy scouts”.
As Catholics, we give to our camps a supernatural dimension”.
“The camp – I mean especially the yearly camp, lasting quite long – has to be conceived as a moral probation”.
“Camp is possible only if its atmosphere is resolutely and deeply religious from the first day”.
“This religious atmosphere will neither be the result of multiples exercises of piety, nor homilies for everything and nothing. Prayer must be sacred, regular in the morning and in the evening. Above all it must be alive, adapted, frankly different from any non-liturgical and ordinary formulas ; have your own prayers, thanks to which they will understand that they do not have two lives, a Christian one on Sunday morning and ten minutes a day during the week, and a scout life that takes them and moulds them the rest of the time ; but that these two lives are only one and that they are boy scouts only to become better Christians, with a more intense supernatural life”.
“If you cannot have mass in the open, try to settle near a church or a chapel… and you will see that there is a radical difference between an ordinary camp and a camp in which people receive the holy communion”².
“During the day, laugh, dance. In the evening, the apostle who exists in each scoutmaster will have his hour around the council. Ph. Carrington was right when he said: “Those who realise all that can be drawn from the Bible are too few” (p. 119).
“Your young auditors will be surprised, then touched, when they realise that their life at camp is the one that the Saviour of men led for three years, without knowing where to rest his head… Then, they will better understand “the Word become flesh who dwelt among us”, they will feel him nearer… And when you bless the troop, as a father does with his family, and when all the patrols are back into their tents, you will sometimes be comforted to see a boy open his heart to you, like a son, and ask you to help him better live.. And from these conversations with the souls of young boy scouts in distress, when we can feel God so near, when sometimes a whole life is decided, I know some chiefs who have kept unforgettable memories” (p. 120).
2/. Lessons to be drawn considering the present ways of living
The temptation that threatens us is to focus on the material aspects of life at camp, whereas what will make it successful will be the moral and spiritual aspects, that is to say the scout spirit and the application of the scout law.
So one must keep in mind that in our scouting two realities are always mixed-up: moral and spiritual aspects of scout life constantly interfere with concrete and material aspects. Just like the soul in the body, the former “inform” the latter: they are not alien but friends. Let us remember the advice given by father Jacques Sevin : “If the best work of a boy scout takes place in the open, it is because it has been preceded by the work of the scoutmaster – on his prie-dieu – but also at his table, with a book and a pen”³.
This is all the more important since we are immersed in societies the life of which is overmaterialistic because of consumption, publicity, the latest fashion, press, TV, internet, mobile phones. How many people live and walk with sets on their ears or type on their keyboards as soon as they find a minute, projected outside real life and as “capsuled” on their tablets! So we must take a specific care of the moral and spiritual preparation of our camps. Sometimes, the religious adviser of the unit, hindered by his other tasks, will not be able to take part in the whole camp. In that case, it will be advisable to camp near a monastery. Thus, the spiritual life of the camp will not be only a “parenthesis” when the religious adviser is present, but it will be assured during the whole camp by the priest-monks, for the best benefice of all.
(to be followed)
1Jacques Sevin, « Scouting ». Les presses d’Ile-de-France, collection « Fondateurs », reedition 1999 by
Association Père Jacques Sevin. The original edition from 1922 cannot be found any longer.
2 We could add that nowadays, apart from mass, it would be the practice of individual confession within
the unit that would be the best indicator of its spiritual health.
3 Jacques Sevin, « Le Chef », January 1924 et « Pour penser Scoutement », Editions Spes, 1934 «
Travail, union », p. 40.