By Kenneth J. Souza
WESTPORT, Mass. — Father Stephen B. Salvador, pastor of St. George Parish in Westport and chaplain for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, had the privilege of attending the 23rd World Scout Jamboree this past summer in Yamaguchi, Japan.
Held every four years in different locations, the latest jamboree took place July 28 through August 8 and drew an estimated 34,000 Scouts from 162 sending countries.
“What was amazing during this Scouting experience was to see Scouts from all over the world interact with one another,” Father Salvador recently told The Anchor. “You had a troop from America next to a troop from Portugal, then another from Mexico. You had all these troops camped out, side-by-side — American, Italian, Portuguese, French, Islamic, troops from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — all working together and getting along. I met a young Saudi Scout who wanted to take a picture with me, the Catholic chaplain.”
In keeping with this year’s theme of “A Spirit of Unity,” the jamboree helped to foster a spirit of cooperation among youth of diverse backgrounds and cultures, while raising participants’ awareness of global issues such as peace, the environment, development, human rights and health.
“In talking to people about the World Jamboree, I think they’re most surprised to hear about the Scouts from Islamic countries, or places like Russia,” Father Salvador said.
Despite escalating tensions between certain countries, Father Salvador said everyone at the jamboree formed a unique bond that defied national boundaries. The sole exception this year was Israel’s decision to not send Scout representatives to Japan.
“It was stated by their new prime minister that they were afraid of terrorism and acts of violence towards them,” Father Salvador said. “A lot of people said it was a shame that they did not see the Israeli flag flying at the world jamboree — at the entrance you have the flags flying representing every country present. I thought it was very sad, because everyone was there working together. There was no fighting.”
Father Salvador said the notion of a worldwide Scouting community sometimes seems foreign to people, especially those in the United States, because they view Scouting as a uniquely American experience. They so often hear about the “Boy Scouts of America” that they don’t realize Scouting was actually founded in Great Britain by Lord Baden-Powell, a lieutenant-general in the British Army.
“Lord Baden-Powell went to a Benedictine monastery to spend time in prayer and reflection to set up a program for youth and he established Scouting for boys and girls,” he said. “Scouting is God-centered, but it’s not a religious program. It’s a program that brings us to an understanding of God.”
Virtually every religion was represented at the World Scout Jamboree, with the top two faith denominations being Islamic and Catholic. In addition to Roman Catholics, the U.S. also had a large contingency of Mormons present.
“The Catholic Church has always been very supportive of the Scouting program, and it’s a great program if they use it properly,” Father Salvador said. “It’s sad to say that some parishes don’t use it properly. The troop or the pack really belongs to the parish — it’s not just a matter of them using the hall. And the pastor is the one who picks the Scout leader.”
Although there isn’t a troop at St. George’s Parish, Father Salvador said there are active troops at the neighboring parishes of St. John the Baptist and Our Lady of Grace.
“The Scouting program is a program that is already there and I think more parishes should be using it,” he added. “I’ve always said that if you get the kids involved, then you’ll get the parents involved too.
“At my parish I have 35 altar servers and the whole family gets involved. I see husbands, wives and kids and sometimes they even bring the grandparents along — it’s exciting to get them all involved. Even in Faith Formation, I try to get more families involved. If you get families involved, you’ll have a strong program.”
With many parishes finding it difficult to start up and maintain youth groups and programs, Father Salvador suggested established Scout troops can help fill the void.
“The religious emblem program in the Boy Scouts is sometimes better than some of the Faith Formation programs out there,” Father Salvador said. “There is so much that is linked to the faith. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting even has a vocations committee. They sponsor religious activities and it’s all based on religious emblems.”
“The greatest thing about Scouting is it helps to build character and it strengthens one’s faith, because the seed is planted,” he added. “I’ve seen kids who were in Scouting and got all their religious emblems and awards and then they drift away from the Church. But years later, they come back. I’ve had people at St. George’s Parish who have come up to me and tell me they remember when I led the Scouting retreats at Cathedral Camp as diocesan chaplain. That’s exciting to hear.”
Father Salvador said a lot of the principles of Scouting also coincide with what Pope Francis is asking us to do now, especially in his latest encyclical Laudato Sí’ — to appreciate nature, to see God’s gift to us in Creation, and to respect, love and care for one another.
“Scouting teaches the importance of being reverent — to appreciate God, to appreciate nature, to appreciate Creation. That’s what Scouting is all about,” he said. “But it’s also about having a good time. I forget to mention that, because if Scouting is not fun, it’s going to fail. And when I say ‘fun,’ I mean fun and exciting. You have to keep the kids interested and involved.”
Father Salvador’s own interest in Scouting began at an early age when he first joined Boy Scout Troop 17 as a teen-ager at St. John the Baptist Parish in New Bedford.
Shortly after being ordained in 1974, Bishop Daniel A. Cronin asked him to minister to Scouts in the diocese.
“I got involved with the Cub Scouts, then I became the chaplain for the district,” Father Salvador said. “Eventually, when Father Martin Buote retired, I became the diocesan chaplain.”
Nine years ago, Father Salvador was honored to be named chaplain for the NCCS.
“In April I’ll complete my nine years, which consists of three years as associate, three years as national, and three years as immediate past — and the duty of the immediate past (chaplain) is to do all the international work and represent the NCCS internationally,” he said.
While he has been asked to consider serving as world chaplain, Father Salvador had to respectfully decline, since “it would involve a lot more traveling and spending time at the main office in Rome.”
“The world chaplain is the ecclesiastical representative of the Holy See, so you’d represent the Catholic Church in the Scouting world,” Father Salvador said. “I’m close to retirement age and I want to retire from administration, even though I’m not going to retire from the priesthood. But I’m sure I’ll still be involved with Scouting on the national level.”
Approaching his 43rd anniversary of ordination, Father Salvador said his entire priesthood has remained somehow affiliated with Scouting on the local and national level.
“At the bishops’ conference meetings I always see Archbishop Cronin and he puts his arm around me and likes to tell all his other bishop friends that ‘he’s here because of me. I made him a Scout chaplain,’” Father Salvador said. “He’s never forgotten that.”
And while he’ll be completing his nine-year commitment to the NCCS in April, Father Salvador said he’s already looking forward to the National Scout Jamboree in July 2017 and maybe even attending the next World Scout Jamboree in 2019, both of which will be held at the Summit Bechtel National Family Scout Reserve in West Virginia.
“Scouting has given me opportunities I never expected,” Father Salvador said. “I’ve been to Argentina, I’ve been to Brazil. I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences. I’ve been to places and met people that I never thought I would. I never thought I’d be doing this as part of my priesthood.”