Chief’s note: The eyes of the world are on the U.S. this week as Pope Francis makes his first visit to our country as the head of the Catholic Church. Among those watching with great interest is Bray Barnes, world chairman of International Catholic Conference of Scouting (ICCS). A Distinguished Eagle Scout and a Silver Buffalo Award recipient, Bray has dedicated his life to bringing a quality Scouting experience to millions of Catholic Scouts around the world. In 2014, Bray became the first Scouting leader to have a private audience with the pope since Scouting’s founder, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, met with Pope Pius XI in 1933. I have the pleasure of introducing Bray as a guest blogger to share memories of his meeting with Pope Francis.
As International Catholic Scouting celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2013, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis, asking for a meeting and a blessing for Scouts in observance of this milestone. I received a call from the Vatican, informing me that Pope Francis would meet with us, so I was soon on a plane to Rome!
I was accompanied by Fr Jacques Gagey, World Chaplain of ICCS along with the President of ICCS, Roberto Cocichnich, who also served as interpreter. We were expected at the papal offices at 11 am on a Saturday. After making our way through the Saturday morning crowd at St. Peter’s Square and passing through security, we were admitted to the pope’s office after a short wait.
The buzzer rang, and then the door opened. As you walk into the pope’s office, his desk is to your immediate right, so you don’t see him. I thought maybe he changed his mind about meeting with me, but as I turned and looked to my right, there he was walking toward me with his hand extended. We greeted each other and exchanged pleasantries and gifts. He gave me a beautiful rosary, and I gave him a book on the life and times of Baden-Powell. I had marked the book where it described Baden-Powell’s meeting with Pope Pius XI in 1933, and Pope Francis looked at me and said ‘Ah! Si, si, Baden-Powell!’ He knew who he was!
During our 30 minutes together, I shared with Pope Francis how Duty to God was very much the cornerstone of Scouting, which he was very pleased to hear. When we parted, Pope Francis shared these two messages for us to pass on to Scouts and their leaders around the world:
“Remember, we are just custodians, we are here for a very short period of time on Earth. So when you work with Scouts, make sure we pass along a good Earth and a good world and all the good values that are important.”
“Often times, young people get sidetracked by and consumed with commercialism – things like television and cell phones are not as important as the values that you teach in Scouting. That’s what’s important, so make sure you teach your Scouts how these important values will stay with them the rest of their lives, while consumerism is just fleeting and passes through your life as a person.”
Pope Francis is a very humble man, very down to earth, and talking with him made you feel like you were talking to a long-time friend. When you actually sit down and meet a man that is truly humble … with a love for youth and his commitment to Scouting … it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
The 30 minutes we were able to share with him really spoke volumes about how much he cares about young people and what he has entrusted us to do … and that is to provide a better world for our Scouts. I felt that was something truly important to him.
Thank you, Bray, for sharing this inspiring story with our Chief’s Corner readers and thank you for all you do for Scouting around the world. For me, it’s incredibly inspiring to know that such a holy and influential man as Pope Francis is familiar with Scouting and supportive of our efforts.
To close, I invite everyone to re-read the messages about our Scouts that Pope Francis shared with Bray. I welcome you to share these messages with others, and also consider how you personally can help our Scouts be good stewards of our environment and adhere to the values we teach.