Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave today when he met in Saint Peter’s Square with the Association of Italian Catholic Guides and Scouts (AGESCI).
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Dear Friends of AGESCI, good morning!
I thank you for having come so numerous from all regions of Italy to form this festive presence in Saint Peter’s Square. I greet the Head male and female Scouts, the General Ecclesiastical Assistant, the cub scouts and the ladybirds, the explorers and the guides, the rovers and the guards, with the head-communities and the assistant priests.
I will tell you one thing – but don’t boast! — You are a precious part of the Church in Italy. Thank you! Perhaps the littlest ones among you don’t realize this well, but I hope the older ones do! In particular, you offer an important contribution to families for their educational mission to girls, to boys and to young people. Parents entrust them to you because they are convinced of the goodness and wisdom of the scout method, based on great human values, on contact with nature, on religiosity and faith in God; a method that educates to freedom in responsibility. This trust of families is not disappointed! And also that of the Church: I hope that you will always feel part of the great Christian community.
Last year, in August, I telephoned you when you were gathered in the pine forest of San Rossore. Do you remember? You did a great national route, as you say. And you did the “Charter of Courage.” This “Charter” expresses your convictions and aspirations, and contains a strong question of education and listening addressed to your head communities, to the parishes and to the Church as a whole. This question includes also the ambit of spirituality and of faith, which are fundamental for the balanced and complete growth of the human person.
When someone once asked your founder, Lord Baden Powell, “how does religion come in to [scouting]?,” he answered that “religions did not need to ‘come in,” because it was already in! There isn’t a religious side of the scout Movement and a side that is not … the whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the awareness of God and on his Service” (Address at a Conference of Scout/Guide Administrators, July 2, 1926, in Education Never Ends, Rome, 1997, p. 43). And he said this in the year ’26.
In the general picture of the scout associations at the world level, AGESCI is among those that invest most in the field of spirituality and education in the faith. However, there is still so much to do, so that all the head-communities understand the importance and draw the consequences.
I know that you have formative moments for the heads on the approach to the Bible, also with new methods, putting at the center the narration of the life lived in comparison with the Message of the Gospel. I congratulate you for these good initiatives, and I hope that they are not sporadic moments, but that they are inserted in a plan of continual and capillary formation, which penetrates in depth the associative fabric, rendering it permeable to the Gospel and facilitating a change of life.
There is something I have particularly at heart in regard to the Catholic associations, and I would like to talk about it also to you. Associations such as yours are a richness of the Church that the Holy Spirit arouses to evangelize all environments and sectors. I am certain that AGESCI can contribute in the Church a new evangelizing fervor and a new capacity of dialogue with the society. I recommend: capacity for dialogue! To build bridges, to build bridges in this society where there is the habit of building walls. You, please, build bridges! And build bridges with dialogue. However, this can happen only on one condition: that the individual groups not lose contact with the parish of the place where they have their headquarters, but which in many cases they do not frequent because, although they carry out their service there, they come from other areas. You are called to find the way to integrate yourselves in the pastoral work of the particular Church, establishing relations of esteem and collaboration at all levels, with your Bishops, with the parish priests and with other priests, with educators and members of the other ecclesial associations present in the parish and in the same territory, and do not be content with a “decorative” presence on Sunday or on important circumstances.There are many groups in AGESCI that are already fully integrated in their diocesan and parish realities, which are able to make a treasure of the formative offer proposed by the Parish community to youngsters, to the very young, to young people, to adults, frequenting, together with others of their contemporaries, groups of Christian catechesis and formation. They do this without giving up what is specific in scout education. And the result is a richer and more complete personality. If you agree, let’s go forward this way!
I thank you all: cubs and ladybirds, explorers and guides, rovers and guards, head communities and assistant priests. I accompany you with my prayer, but I ask you also to pray for me.
Good journey to you all![Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]