This week, as many as 5,000 Catholic scouts are walking historic pilgrimage routes to Rome that will culminate in a private audience with Pope Francis and a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Aug. 3.
Catholic scout troops are a European tradition that started in the early 20th century with Venerable Jacques Sevin, a French Catholic priest who was inspired by the potential of scouting, founded by his contemporary Robert Baden-Powell in England, for youth development.
Fr. Sevin founded the first Catholic scouting troop, consecrated to the Sacred Heart, in France in 1918.
The Scouts of Europe, a Catholic scouting organization recognized by the Holy See, was founded in the wake of World War II, built on the idea that scouting can help young people “discover that the true European legacy is the capacity to live together in peace and brotherhood around a common aim, Christ,” according to the International Union of European Guides and Scouts - European Scout Federation.
The theme of the scouts’ weeklong trek to Rome, called the “Euromoot,” is “Parate Viam Domini,” which means “prepare the way of the Lord.” The logo includes twelve stars symbolizing the Virgin Mary.
Some of the scouts are walking to Rome by the Way of St. Francis from Assisi, while others have chosen to walk the Way of St. Benedict or part of the medieval Via Francigena. Priests walk with the different scout troops to provide access to the sacraments throughout the pilgrimage.
The scout troops of “rangers” and “rovers” aged 16-21 come from more than 20 countries. Some members of the organization's North American branch, the Federation of North American Explorers, are also participating in the pilgrimage.
Reflections for the journey focus on St. Catherine of Siena, St. Paul, St. Benedict, St. Francis, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius as ideal examples of heroic virtue to be imitated.
“The most important thing ... for us as leaders ... is to take their souls to God, their sanctity is essential," Spanish scout leader Flory Delgado told CNA.
Delgado, 32, has been involved with Catholic scouting her entire life before becoming a volunteer leader for the Scouts of Europe. Delgado’s parents met through their Catholic scouting troops in Spain.
“For us scouting is a style of life,” she explained. The aim of this lifestyle is God, above all, and then training one’s character, good health, service to others, and practicality, she said.
Delgado said that the scouts try to incorporate their Catholic faith into all of their activities with a particular emphasis on the sacraments and service.
"In every activity, we start with a prayer, we finish with a prayer. We pray together the Angelus,” she said.
In her 14 years serving as a scout leader, Delgado has seen the benefits of getting young people out of the house through scouting.
When you leave your comfort zone, you have to face difficulties, Delgado explained, such as the weight of your backpack on a hiking trip.
"You have to make your own decisions of what we will bring with us, and this is what we will carry on our shoulders," Delgado said. This is a lesson for life, she explained, you have to take responsibility for your own decisions.
"Also, when you start something, finish something," she said.
The first Scouts of Europe pilgrimage to Rome took place in 1975, in which 500 scouts met St. Paul VI.
St. John Paul II met with scout delegations on several occasions. In 2003, the pope met the scouts in Castel Gandolfo and said to them:
“Dear young people, be generous in answering Jesus' call inviting you to put out into the deep and become his witnesses, discovering the trust he puts in you to devise a future together with him. Above all, to fulfil this mission the Church is entrusting to you requires that you cultivate a genuine life of prayer nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession.”
“Dear Guides and Scouts of Europe, you are a precious gift not only for the Church, but also for the new Europe which you see growing before your eyes, and you have been called to share, with all the ardour of youth, in building the Europe of peoples, so that the dignity of every individual as a child loved by God will be recognized, and a society built on the basis of solidarity and charity,” he continued.