So, let’s come back to the fresh times of our youth, just for our anniversary. Not to take refuge in them but to check whether the commitments taken on All Saints’ Day 1956 have borne fruit and if we are still their heirs.
REFORMS IN SCOUTING IN FRANCE: 1964-1975
The sixties belonged to youth. It was the baby-boom. A young culture appeared. The magazine “Salut les copains” was a symbol of that new trend, with more than one million copies.
The Pioneer-Ranger reform
A question worried the national team of Scouts de France. What was the weight of its 100.000 members compared to the ten million young people? It was important to reduce the distance between the scout microcosm and the world of youth if they wanted to reach more young people. Michel Rigal, then general commissioner of Scouts de France, precised that the point was “to imprint the scout spirit to the whole French youth”¹. A wind of new ideas² was launched and relayed at local level by many leaders from outside scouting, often coming from the “Cadres Verts” operation of 1956, that was invented to compensate the lack of the 18-20 years old chiefs leading the units.
Here is what Michel Rigal answered to a chief’s question during the general assembly of March 22nd 1964: “I think that the Pioneer proposal is going to modify the type of scout man. Some elements of the method are emphasised, for instance the construction site, the notion of productive work in human life; participation and co-management are much more emphasised… Indeed, we may get more socialised men, that is to say that instead of producing a man able to cope with any circumstance and putting his skills at the service of society, we are going to aim much more at a man integrated into a society which is probably both more collective and more socialised”³.
It meant that a boy scout had to embrace society as it was, risking to be dissolved into the masses and to lose his specificity and his vocation. The place of nature, an essential dimension of scouting, was reconsidered. François Lebouteux, promotor of the reform, wrote on this point: “Behind our uniform (4), there is a mystic: man is no longer the host of nature, he becomes its conqueror and its master” (5). Such a sentence sounds quite strange to our ears nowadays, when mankind becomes conscious of the fragility of our planet at last!
The reform of Guides and Scouts of Europe (6)
For the national team of Guides and Scouts of Europe, everything took place from 1956 to 1966, as if the Providence had wanted to give birth to a confessional movement of scouting faithful to the intuitions of Baden-Powell and of the founders of Catholic scouting, at a moment when Catholic scouting in Europe was implementing an “aggiornamento” that was going to cut it from its origins and its history.
Admittedly, the Guides and Scouts of Europe were still not so numerous (7), but they had started to moult in order to consider the modifications of the social context of that time. For Claude Pinay (8) and Pierre Géraud-Keraod, the F.S.E. was nothing else than the continuation, after the parenthesis of the war and with a more ecumenical openness, of that International Office, founded in 1920 by Jacques Sevin – French -, Jean Corbisier – Belgian -, and Mario di Carpegna – Italian (9). That first step of European scouting had disappeared in front of the rise of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships in Europe before the war, most of which prohibited scouting or perverted it seriously.
Times had changed and scouting had to take it into consideration. During those years of reforms by the Scouts de France, the FSE was reflecting upon the type of man and woman to offer as examples to young people. The “colonial” type, soldier of civilization cherished by Baden-Powell, was no longer fashionable while Europe was painfully drawing a line on its colonial empires; the type of “knight” dear to pre-war scouting seemed hardly compatible with the presence of a significant female section (10); the one of “raider” or the “parachutist” with his green beret did not please at all to the female and male leaders of our German association.
For Claude Pinay and Pierre Géraud-Keraod, it was obvious that the problems of scouting were not only due to a mere disagreement on pedagogical practice (in particular the split of the Boy Scout branch into two) but on essential issues that were appearing in the Church and in society because of a growing secularisation contrasting with the optimism of some texts of the Council. However, for them, the model of the “adventurer through the jungle” adopted at the end of the war was a mistake. Raiders had introduced into scouting expensive techniques, often out of reach of teenagers and of young leaders, so generating illusions. Without being aware of it, they were preparing the Pioneer-Ranger reform which emphasized the drifts, unfortunately.
The important point was not exclusively the scout method but the spirit with which that method was applied. There was no question of maintaining pre-war scouting, which had no more link with the FSE except the Ceremonial. The Federation of European Scouting innovated, while remaining faithful to Baden-Powell and father Sevin’s scouting. What was important was to live really – through the experience of young people themselves – a doubly international scouting because it referred to Jesus Christ’s Church as well as to Baden-Powell. Guides and Scouts of Europe were quite aware that Scouts de France were heading for disaster, not least because of the existence in a same movement of a Boy Scout branch (where the raider offered a secularized model in complete disagreement with his time and finally with
the Gospel values) and a Road branch totally opposite to the green branch, evolving towards stronger and stronger commitments towards the city, following the pastoral of “worker priests” in some places, committing themselves politically in trade-unions…
Many people have not yet understood that the article 5 of the Carta of European Scouting was concerning Pioneers as well as Raiders (11). No specific and distinct pedagogy for young scouts and older scouts, of course, but what was more important: a Boy Scout branch coherent with the Road branch that was going to follow. Indeed, this is the main difference in France between Guides and Scouts of Europe and “Scouts unitaires de France”. The unity of the Boy Scout branch is important but the gap between the ideals of the Boy Scout branch and those of the red branch is far more important.
For Pierre Géraud-Keraod then, the road branch was essential because it set the pace to the Boy Scout branch. This was what he developed in his speech to the “unitaires” leaders gathered in the castle of Courances in 1966, after Michel Menu had proposed his “jets-scouts”, surprising all the participants: it was a right-wing variation of Pioneers, still quite secularized. To reach that aim, the French national team looked for a model to offer to young people: it must not enter in contradiction with the values of the Gospel; the model had to be rechristened and the spirit of the Beatitudes had to be transmitted to the boy scout. It had to be acceptable by the various Christian confessions, to be compatible with a female section, otherwise any will of inter-education between boys and girls would produce only bad fruit. It had to be comprehensible by all the cultures in the West as well as in the East, already existing or joining later on to enrich the international community of Guides and Scouts of Europe.
After many reflections, the idea of the “pilgrim” emerged. A pilgrim is a person who walks, who passes by, “a foreigner who comes from elsewhere and who does not belong to the established native society; furthermore, he is someone who goes through an area and in that space an internal mutation is experienced” (12). This mutation takes place in the fact of being a pilgrim who goes through an area and assumes the others’ look, sedentary people who watch him go or who receive him. This situation corresponds perfectly to the present Christian, sometimes rejected, or even suggesting indifference and more and more hostility. The myth of the pilgrim is more than a myth, actually. Contrarily to the colonial empires, it remains actual and alive. Aren’t we all in a pilgrimage on earth? The funny thing is that this figure is now very fashionable, for instance in the ecologist speech. “Which earth are we going to leave to our children? We are only passing on this earth”; this is the pilgrim’s supreme argument, to which everyone is sensitive, be he a believer or not. The ultimate asset of the pilgrim is to be European. Europe is the civilization of steps, paths and trails. But woe to the Guides and Scouts of Europe! Their model did not suite the Bishops’ pastoral of that time, which was based upon disappearing (13). In order to evangelize the modern world, it was necessary to disappear, to be dissolved into the human dough. Although it was a respectable concept, it decreased the representation and the visibility of the Church!
On the contrary, the Guides and Scouts of Europe dared proclaim themselves Christian, without ostentation nor dissimulation. The grown-ups were forgetting that teenagers never react to schemes. They need explicit and Christian messages… This is the reason of the success of the World Youth Day later on.
So why should we be surprised by the growing incomprehension between a part of the clergy and these young people accused of triumphalism then fundamentalism? The clerical world was forgetting that the movement was directed first to teenagers who, without an explicit announcement of the Christian message, cannot meet Christ. Only much later, with the gradual acceptance into the Church of new spiritual movements and the numerous sacerdotal and religious vocations coming from the movement, the clergy accepted the visibility of Guides and Scouts of Europe, with what youth means in terms of challenges and irritations for the adults.
The reasons of a success
Until the publication of Jean-Luc Angélis’ book « La véritable histoire des Guides et Scouts d’Europe », the emergence of the movement in France was commonly explained as a haemorrhage from Scouts de France to Guides and Scouts of Europe. As a matter of fact, from 1964 to 1973, the Scouts de France lost half of their members (14). However, the reasons for this collapse are to be sought for not outside but inside the associations of French scouting and in the evolution of French society.
A study on the evolution of the figures of the association showed that from 1956 to 1976, that is to say for twenty years, 623 new FSE settlements appeared in France, 32 of which only came from French scouting, mainly from “unitaires” troops. The emergence of the movement is essentially due to some hundreds of 15 – 18 year old young people, supported by their families, who reappropriated scouting, in reaction against a nomenklatura of pedagogues who had taken the power in the scout movement. This reminds us of the beginning of Catholic scouting in France in the twenties, when Scouts de France had to face the hostility of a big part of clergy and episcopate. At that time, the movement had only resisted thanks to the unlimited support of the families, the enthusiasm of young people themselves, the devotedness of some priests and… the support of the Holy See.
Ten years later, in 1975, the aim of the Road of Mont-Saint-Michel was reached (15). The red branch was numerous enough to allow Jean-Charles de Coligny, in St-Paul-Outside-the-Walls (Rome) to send the Pilots on the Road to Santiago de Compostela.
“For the pioneers of the European Scout Road, the resumption of the pilgrimage to Santiago was not motivated by a historical, archaeological or touristic quest, even less by an activity to give a useful occupation to the old scouts during Summer time, although it was an unforgettable adventure. […] The Santiago Road aimed at incarnating the spirituality of the Road and thus at becoming a school of life. Without any previous model, that unequalled genius pedagogy was open to all, always new in spite of its thousand years of existence” (16).
Luc Adrian, a journalist of “Famille Chrétienne”, wrote that in 1982 only 120 pilgrims were registered in Santiago de Compostela. In 1999, they were tens of thousands during that last Compostela Holy Year of the millennium to walk towards the tomb of the Apostle (17). As soon as 1975, on paths deserted for years, our pilots were explorers opening the way indeed.
The Guides and Scouts of Europe were the crucible of the renewal of traditional Catholic scouting in France and in Europe. Without them, the centenary of scouting on the Champ de Mars in Paris in 2007 would have been celebrated in front of a very reduced crowd. According to many priests who have been in Vézelay at All Saints’ Day every year for the start of the scout year since 1976 (18), the Road of Guides and Scouts of Europe is much more similar to the new communities that appear in our Church than to pre-war scouting.
1 Chefs, nr. 361, December 1961, p. 63.
2 The group dynamics coming from the United States and born in the non-directive trend promoted by
3 Chefs, nr. 379, May 1964, p.32.
4 The boy scout adopted a new style, forgetting the model transmitted by Baden-Powell, and began to
wear the red shirt of the Soviet Pioneers.
5 François LEBOUTEUX, L’École du chantier, Coll. Scouts de France, P.I.F., 1964, p. 201.
6 This paragraph is largely inspired by chapter 4 of Jean-Luc ANGÉLIS’s book, La véritable histoire des
Guides et Scouts d’Europe, Presses de la Renaissance, 2008.
7 1.020 members, among which 350 in France (Report of the Federal Council of Dover, All Saints’ Day
8 General commissioner of the French Association from 1962 to 1965.
9 See, at the end of this article, the appendix IX of father Jacques SEVIN’s book about the International
Office of Catholic Scouts, Le Scoutisme, Editions Spes, 1924, Second Edition, pp. 336 à 338.
10 It reached 40 % of the members and 60 % of the leaders quite quickly.
11 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 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… »
12 Alphonse DUPRONT, Pèlerinages et lieux sacrés, Encyclopedia Universalis, p.167.
13 Cf. Ludovic LALOUX, Passion, tourment ou espérance ? Histoire de l’Apostolat des Laïcs depuis Vatican II, F.X. de Guibert, 2003.
14 Philippe LANEYRIE, Les Scouts de France : L’évolution du mouvement des origines aux années quatrevingt, Cerf, 1985, p.330.
15 Contact nr. 7 September 2017
16 Marc de COLIGNY, Marche à l’étoile ! Vademecum du routier pèlerin de Compostelle, Collection Route
et Feu, 2009
17 Luc ADRIAN, En marche vers Compostelle, Famille Chrétienne nr. 1121, July 8th 1999
18 Vézelay, 30 ans d’aventure humaine et spirituelle, Éditions Carrick, 2006.
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