Scouting was born in England during the first years of the twentieth century. Very quickly, the scout movement crossed the borders of the British Empire, for which it had been conceived initially, and spread out in the whole world.
It reached countries of old Catholic tradition where, beside scout initiatives of non confessional or multi-confessional type, official Catholic scout initiatives appeared. This was the case in Belgium, Italy and France in particular.
We may rightly consider that Father Jacques Sevin (French), Professor Jean Corbisier (Belgian), the Earl Mario di Carpegna (Italian) are the founders of Catholic scouting. They respectively promoted the Catholic associations of “Scouts de France”, “Baden Powell Belgian Boy Scouts”, “Associazione Scautistica Cattolica Italiana” (A.S.C.I.). From their commitment, the “International Office of Catholic Scouts” was also born. Its aim was to constitute a point of reference for all Catholic scouts.
Sevin, Corbisier and Carpegna managed to adapt to the Latin and Catholic context of their countries, without modifying it, an educational method born in an Anglo-Saxon and Protestant context. Baden Powell said: “Our programme has four aims: the education of character, manual ability, physical health and the service of others”. The founders of Catholic scouting emphasized a fifth aim: “Christian formation”.
Nevertheless their attempts to reach a closer understanding and brotherhood between all Catholic scouts hurt against the events of those years and against the apparition of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships which forbade scouting or greatly limited its freedom of action.
The beginnings of the F.E.S.
Years later, after the Second World War, when we were trying to build the popular educational context, new initiators came back to the proposals of the founders of Catholic scouting. This first happened on an ecumenical basis, and then the initiative evolved towards an officially Catholic federation.
On November 1st 1956 in Cologne, Germany, about fifty young German and French chiefs met; they were Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. Their meeting gave birth to the “Federation of European Scouting”.
Some of these chiefs had belonged to the “Europa-Scouts”, a scout organisation born three years before in Austria, but left it because they were disappointed by an organisation without any clear religious character, which did not consider national realities.
After three days of debate, a document in ten articles was redacted: the Federal Statutes. The first article says: The “Federation of European Scouting” is founded. It is an international scout association, composed of national sections. Its aim is to practise Baden Powell’s scouting, within the European context and the Christian bases included in the idea of united Europe.
As official emblem for all associations, the Federation adopted a Malta cross with eight points and a golden fleur-de-lis. This choice was not made by chance. It was on All Saints’ Day, when the Church proclaims solemnly the eight beatitudes to the whole world. For the F.E.S., these beatitudes are precisely symbolised by the eight points of its emblem.
From November 1st 1956 on, a yearly appointment began. It is called the Federal Council. It still lasts nowadays. At the Federal Council of the following year, a second text was redacted. It was entitled: the “Religious Directory”. It developed the first article of the Federal Statutes and fixed the rules of religious life in the units.
The Religious Directory of 1957 says in its first article: “The organisation called FEDERATION OF EUROPEAN SCOUTING recognises the full value of Christian faith. It acts and makes decisions according to the rules of this faith”.
Yet the Religious Directory of 1957 admits the possibility of so called « open » scout units, gathering young people of different confessions. But very soon we observed that the religious formation of the boys and girls was incompatible with this idea of “open” scout units. The level of scouting practised by these groups was very weak. So gradually most of these groups disappeared. This religious aspect will also constitute a source of difficulties with the English association, then with the Dutch one, because they refused a religious aspect for their groups and units. Consequently, after several attempts of making them come back to the common positions of the F.E.S., they finally left the Federation.
The founders’ spirit
A text to present the movement, written in 1960, may give clues to understand better the spirit of these young people.
“Some boys and girls declared that it ought not be possible to fight against one another every 20 years, and that millions of orphans should not be waiting for their turn to leave for a new war… In front of masses of corpses pushed by bulldozers, in front of razed towns, and kids burnt by napalm, something inside them arose and they shouted: “Enough!… We committed ourselves with all our strength to this battle against those who want to sow distrust and hatred among us… With only our smile and our hands open, and the little we possess – the heart of free and trustful human beings -, we went towards others, accepting the same red cross with a golden fleur-de-lis (…). Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, we only wanted to remember that Christ had died for us. We only wanted to see a Christian in one another, a human being loved by God”.
These young chiefs also dared add something new and important to the text of the Promise: faithfulness to Europe. Thirty years before it was adopted by the European Union, the twelve golden star flag floated on all F.E.S. camp. The first Guides and Scouts of Europe also saw in it a Christian symbol too.
In 1956, simultaneously to the Federation, the German F.E.S. association was also founded, not officially. The French chiefs registered their association in 1958 only. In 1959, an F.E.S. association was created in England and the Belgian association was born in 1960..
The apparition of core texts
In 1962, Perig Géraud-Keraod and his wife Lizig joined the French F.E.S. association. In a few years, they transmitted to the movement a specific spirit and a living dynamism, in a word a soul. They remained general commissioners of the French association for almost 25 years. They were also responsible for the F.E.S. at the European level. Thanks to their action and in spite of external difficulties, the F.E.S. knew a considerable development in France and throughout Europe. In 1986, when the couple left its functions, the F.E.S. counted more than 50.000 members. These considerations allow us to assess that, as a matter of fact, they were the real founders of the F.E.S..
Perig Géraud-Keraod (1915-1997) was a scout when he was young. During the Second World War, he took an active part in the resistance. After the Liberation, he was active in the Breton Catholic Mission in Paris. With his wife, he helped for welcoming very numerous emigrants who were then leaving Brittany to settle in the Parisian region.
Thanks to the action of this couple, the Religious Directory was revised in March 1963. A large part of the Charter of Catholic Scouting, which the Holy See had promulgated on June 13th 1962, was integrated into it. At that moment too, the ceremonial and the uniform were defined and the first training camps for chiefs and for patrol chiefs took place.
This couple also started a huge work of reflection on the principles of Scouting, leading in June 1965 to the redaction and signature by the federated associations of the « Charter of natural and Christian principles of European scouting ».
In 1971, an association was created in the Netherlands and it wanted to join the F.E.S. As it was said before, some religious problems appeared later on in this association. After several attempts from the federal leaders, the Federal Council finally and reluctantly had to exclude this association from the Federation. For the same reason, the Federation was forced to take a similar decision towards the English association, reluctantly too.
In 1975, the F.E.S. organised a pilgrimage to Rome for the Holy Year. It was the only Catholic scout association in the world to do so. The Holy Father, Paul VI, expressed publicly his satisfaction and his encouragement for the work and action of the F.E.S..
In 1973, the Canadian association was founded. In 1976, a Catholic association started again in Germany. Associations were also created in Italy and Luxemburg.
Then, in order to take these new developments into consideration, and in the expectation of the future, the F.E.S. settled its organisation on more appropriate bases. New federal statutes were redacted. They established the Catholic character of the Federation. While remaining open ecumenically to the other Christian confessions according to the conditions established by the Religious Directory, it went on acting and making decisions according to the rules of the Catholic faith. So the Religious Directory remained the basis for the understanding and the collaboration between Christian people of various confessions, within a same federation.
With the new federal statutes, the official name of the international scouting movement became the one which is still valid nowadays: “”Union Internationale des Guides et Scouts d’Europe – Fédération du Scoutisme Européen” (International Union of Guides and Scouts of Europe – Federation of European Scouting). From that moment on, the F.E.S. thus became the U.I.G.S.E.-F.S.E., even if we go on using the old abbreviation F.S.E. according to custom.
In 1977 the Protestant German association and the Swiss association were founded, then the Spanish and Portuguese associations in 1978. The Austrian association appeared in 1981.
On March 12th 1980, the Council of Europe granted to the U.I.G.S.E.-F.S.E. the advisory status. Now it has become a participative status.
After the fall of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, new associations were born. This was the case of Hungary in 1990, Rumania in 1991 and Lithuania in 1992. In Poland, the Catholic scout association ZAWISZA, founded clandestinely in 1982, joined the U.I.G.S.E.-F.S.E. in 1995.
In 1994, on the occasion of the international gathering of the Eurojam, organised by the U.I.G.S.E.-F.S.E. in Viterbo, His Holiness John Paul II received 7.500 guides and scouts coming from whole Europe and Canada in an audience in Saint-Peter’s Basilica. He gave them an important speech representing a fundamental reference in the life of the Federation. The main action lines for the whole U.I.G.S.E.-F.S.E. come out of it.
In the following years, new settlements appeared in Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Latvia, Czech Republic and Ukraine. In 2003, the Russian association ORIOUR was admitted as “observer”.
In 2003, a Eurojam gathered in Zelazko, in Poland, 9.500 scouts and guides. The Holy Father John Paul II sent a message to the participants.
Nowadays, the UIGSE is composed of more than 55.000 members in about twenty European countries and Canada.