The International Catholic Conference of Scouting for the Europe Mediterranean Region was held in Amman from the 24th till the 27th of November at the center Our Lady of Peace, under the theme “Building Bridges”. Fr. Imad Twal, General Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, who conducted the first session of the meeting, explained how peace is not only a concept but also an aspect of culture and how the scouts can make a difference in the region for a better coexistence.
Following is the text of his address:
Firstly, I would like to thank you for inviting me to speak and for giving me the opportunity to be with you. I hope that by the end of the conference, we can discover the path to contribute to building bridges and removing barriers in order to achieve peace and build a better future.
Achieving peace, in spite of all the changes and crises in the world generally and in the Middle East and the Holy Land (to which I belong) in particular, is without a doubt the most important and talked about matter at the moment. We realize that peace is not only a concept but also an aspect of culture. Thus, the question is, how can we promote this culture of peace in a time when, to borrow a phrase from the comic play As in aria by Titus Plautus, “a man is a wolf to another man” (Homo homini lupus), where he loses his humanity and uses the name of God and religion to achieve his personal gains? How can we renounce violence in order to use our mind and choose the language of dialogue and understanding instead of the language of conflict, so as to build a stable, progressive and prosperous world for everyone?
Let’s take a different look at this matter, from the point of view of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. We focus attention on the youth and their upbringing, for they will be peacemakers and leaders of change, to work towards achieving peace, building and maintaining bridges and removing barriers. Perhaps we can begin to deepen the dialogue, taking into consideration the contemporary challenges, through a three-part mission of “encounter” in the home and family, in the school and university, in the society and church.
When Pope Francis met with the Catholic scouts and girl guides in Italy, he praised their educational mission in which children and young people are engaged. He said: “I’m confident that this organization is capable to convey to the church a new enthusiasm for evangelization and a new ability for dialogue.” He also urged them to build bridges in society. “As a scout movement, you are called to build bridges in a society which is accused to putting up barriers.” He further accentuated the importance of taking part in the pastoral work of the Church.
As Catholic scouts, we must have the conviction and belief in the vital role that a sound education and upbringing play in the development of societies and people and in accepting society’s cultural diversity.
“So many young people from such a variety of nations, cultures and languages but with one aim, that of rejoicing that Jesus is living in our midst. To say that Jesus is alive means to rekindle our enthusiasm in following him, to renew our passionate desire to be his disciples. What better opportunity to renew our friendship with Jesus than by building friendships among yourselves! What better way to build our friendship with Jesus than by sharing him with others! What better way to experience the contagious joy of the Gospel than by striving to bring the Good News to all kinds of painful and difficult situations!” (Pope Francis, Poland 2016)
Let’s look at the concept of coexistence and building bridges in the Holy Land and how the Catholic scout contributed successfully, since their founding, to successfully implementing this concept in reality:
The Holy Land:
It comprises the cities east and west bank of the Jordan River, where Arab Muslims and Christians live. When we say “Arab Christians” we emphasize their Arabic identity and Christian presence as citizens who have rights and responsibilities before the Law and the Constitution. Here we are talking about the strong relationship between eastern Christians and Muslims in their daily life, which involves living, working, and celebrating religious holidays together such as Christmas and Ramadan.
King Abdullah II of Jordan has always emphasized the important role that upbringing and education plays in the future of youth. He said during “The Challenges Facing Arab Christians” Conference that “our main concern is that such an entrenched negative perception and the state of isolation between the followers of the different religions might undermine the social fabric. This requires all of us to focus on education, and the way we bring up our children to protect the generations to come. This is the responsibility of families and other educational institutions, as well as mosques and churches.”
Lieutenant General Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement, once said “Try your best to make a difference in this world, and leave the world a little better for having been here.” That is the mission of the Scout Movement, which works towards building bridges and removing barriers to build a better life and a developed world. A way in which this may be done is by contributing to social, ecological, humanitarian and voluntary work.
Father Jacques Sevin, who introduced scouting to the Catholic world, was the first to see that the Scouting Movement can be used to spread the spirit of fraternity and service, which meet youths’ expectations. He adopted the British scouting model and implemented it in France, adding a Catholic and religious dimension to it. But how did he do that?
Religious education should unite and be part of the normal upbringing: in his book “Scouting”, Sevin wrote: “Religion is at the heart of Scouting, because the aim of Scouting is the development of the whole human being. We are before a full presence in education and faith, and Scouting is a real implementation that draws the attention of the youth through instilling Scouting spirituality in the celebrations of the Church”. Fr. Sevin founded the congregation of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem and he took a text of Ignatius de Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, adapting it to become the scout prayer.
Incorporation of Christian scouting into the Biblical dynamic movement of Salvation History. Fr. Sevin once wrote “Scouting is the starting a new understanding of the world by appreciating God’s creation.” This is how the desire to know the Gospel (which is the essence of God’s revelation) started, so Scouting had to show God’s work and to deepen faith through its activities and programs.
Scouting is the place of the revelation of the Good News, so is the lived experience. Reading Bible passages is not enough, we need to implement God’s word and His presence through fraternal love in group activities. Living one’s religion in Scouting deepens the spiritual dimension in the Bible.
We have the theology of the Incarnation and People of God. Scouting is compared to People of God who camped in the desert and tried to discover the way to God. Scouting is the journey of an alliance with God, which is realized by serving others. “The Scout is proud of his faith and lives by it all his life.”
Scouting, through prayer and austerity, seeks to implement the word of God. Scouting is a path of revelation through the life of camp. Scouting is austere through service. The experience gained from scouting is persistence and living in the steps of faith.
Scouting that adopts the spirit of initiative taking, experiencing nature and searching for physical development, is a theological justification and real presence in the Incarnation. By this I mean, by the words of Fr. Sevin once wrote: “Camping life is a testimony of staying in God’s tent for the spiritual development of the true scout.”
How do we build bridges and peace in today’s world?
This requires a mind-set that does not place false ideas of “security” as the primary purpose of life. As you know the primary purposes are concerned with love; with hope; and with justice. And as such be promoted by building walls and dividing humanity. At best, building walls may lead to a “cease fire;” but destroys and chance of mutual respect, love, and care for each other – and especially care of the most vulnerable in society. It is here that scouting is at its best; in the narrative of love and hope, and not of war and division. Build bridges of love and not walls of war.
Building bridges and achieving peace won’t become a reality without first becoming peacemakers in our individual lives and then in the lives of others. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” said Mahatma Ghandi.
The mission of the Holy Land: is an example of cultural, religious and social diversity in a land that suffers from an identity conflict (Palestinian-Israeli conflict), so how can we find harmony as Arabs (ethnicity) and Christians (identity) in the Holy Land, where there are different cultures and social classes, and use this difference to work together to achieve peace?
Here we have national, ethnic, human and religious responsibilities.
Openness: Openness builds and develops; it does not destroy. It respects differences and the views of others.
The Scouting youth: if we trust our youth and our ability to instil what we want in their Scout’s honour; we would succeed in creating a better future. Scouting is a fertile land to build bridges and a universal fraternity between scouts. As Baden Powell said “A Scout is a friend to Scouts around the world and the people around him/her.”
Brothers don’t fight each other. If we befriended people in other countries, we won’t need to wage war. This is the best way to prevent any future wars and achieve peace permanently.” And it is the adopted philosophy of the World Scout Jamboree for the scout is the apostle of peace.
Nowadays, the church nowadays faces many challenges. Our Pope has talked about relativism, the social, political and cultural crisis and the negative aspect of the media and globalization.
We have a real and practical answer on how to face these challenges just like the reality of the early church. How did the church stay strong after the Pentecost? How did it grow? What are its pillars and source of its strength?
It was all done through faith in the work and revelations of the Holy Spirit but most importantly belief in the Bible.
Scouting was suitable for gaining experience, talking and teaching to face challenges.
The Gift of faith: what is it?
Realizing the gravity of these challenges is the first step to overcome them through helping the youth. St. Paul urged the youth to seek for the truth. Look before you cry, search with love and service, renounce the devil and listen to the cries of the world and Christians, for choosing the ideal life is not an extra test but an essential one.
The church realizes that the youth are the gift of faith that it gives, but how? By learning about the love of forgiveness when God intervened in our life, and sent His son who built a new humanity. God whose Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Through the education provided by the Church, youth are given a clear image about authentic faith through her teachings and belief in spreading love, faith and spreading hope. We have to listen to the youth and respect them. Adults should be credible role models if youth are to accept directions; for credibility is the foundation of growth in the relationship between the church and society.
Let’s look at life from a new perspective, where bridges are ties while roadblocks are the obstacles. From this viewpoint, You control your life. You can choose to build bridges or roadblocks. In practice, we should develop our innate sense of commitment, leadership skills, and integration with the other members of the group all the while being aware of the surrounding environment, in order to build a more humane world. Prayer and team work will provide greater efficacy.
Pope Francis said “the person who wants to build walls instead of bridges is not Christian”. As a final recommendation, we should pay a close attention to the importance of Christian education and this is where the mission of the church, parish and the faithful lies. We must have hope. The future shape or condition of the church lies in the hands of our youth. Education methods are changing and directing and forming young minds is not easy. Youth today require elders to support and accompany them in nurturing and caring for their faith testimony.
The bridge that you build will allow you to meet people on the other side. You can build it through love, warmth, communion, understanding, forgiveness and acceptance of diversity. It would your best achievement if you extend your hand to others and help them grow and succeed.
In conclusion, when we build bridges, we allow God to work through us. We plant the seeds of love and faith. We make Him present in humanity. We love God by loving others.