Timber Wolves Andres Jimenez and Jake Sivilla participate in a game requiring coordination and cooperation during a campout at Camp Owaissa Bauer in February 2014.
MIAMI | While sitting around a campfire in the Everglades with their sons in February 2013, a group of Catholic men dreamed about doing this regularly: to escape technology and spend quality time together, in prayer, out in nature with their sons.
During this conversation, one of the fathers, Jorge Escala, noticed a few boys from a different group were listening. Escala later approached the boys, who explained that they were camping there with a “last chance” school for children with problems – problems which included dads who beat their wives and moms who were alcoholics.
“That experience of us camping, the beauty of celebrating a Mass out there in nature, together with seeing these kids and what they lacked – God placed it on my heart that there needed to be something to fill these needs,” Escala said.
Ramon Rodriguez receives a blessing from Father Jesus Arias during his "promise ceremony" and installation as new assistant Otter leader. Jorge Escala, one of the founders of the Stella Maris Federation of North American Explorers, looks on along with several Timber Wolves.
He started to research online – explore, if you will – and a few months later discovered the Federation of North American Explorers.
“God answered my prayer and said, ‘This is what you need to do,’” said Escala, a father of five.
The Federation of North American Explorers is a Catholic, faith-based outdoor youth movement based on Venerable Jacques Sevin’s Catholic implementation of Baden-Powell methods. It a Vatican-recognized Lay Association of the Faithful that is derived from the Federation of Scouts of Europe.
After receiving training from Explorers leaders from Philadelphia and Toronto, the local group was officially formed Nov. 10, 2013 and christened “Stella Maris FNE
.” It is the third FNE group to be founded in the U.S. and the fifth in North America, though recent growth has led to a total of more than 20 groups joining the FNE during the past year.
“What I like the most in Stella Maris is that we get together and go camping and learn about values,” said Daniel Escala, 11, Jorge Escala’s son. “We do cool stuff by learning about the faith at the same time.”
The Explorers are broken down into three groups: Otter Lodge (6- and 7-year olds), Timber Wolf Den (8- to 12-year olds) and Explorer Troop (13- to 17-year olds.) There are currently 33 boys participating in the Archdiocese of Miami: 16 Otters, 10 Timber Wolves and 7 Explorers. They are led by seven adult leaders, all of whom are fathers who have sons in the group.
“We all fit in and there is no bullying and we don’t have anyone who is mean, which I sometimes have in school,” said Victor Escarpio, 7. “We get to be with our friends and family.”
FIND OUT MORE
The Stella Maris FNE will have an informational meeting on Friday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Good Shepherd School, 14187 S.W. 72 St., Miami. Anyone interested in joining or learning more about this Catholic outdoor youth movement for boys and girls, ages 6 to 17, is invited to attend. For more information, contact Jorge@stellamarisfne.org
or visit StellaMarisFNE.org.
The groups meet simultaneously, twice a month, at Good Shepherd Parish, where, dressed in full uniform, they pray, learn lessons about the saints, play games, make crafts and listen to guest speakers. They also participate in additional activities such as campfires for the Otters and overnight camping for Timber Wolves and Explorers.
“FNE is more than I expected it would be, and it has grown quicker than I thought. There is so much enthusiasm behind it, we’ve been really blessed with it,” said Jorge Escala, also known as “Akela,” which means den leader. The name comes from a character from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
The Explorers are diverse: eight are homeschooled, nine attend Good Shepherd School, and 16 attend public school. Close to half of the members are parishioners at Good Shepherd.
“We’re seeing some amazing kids who are really committed to it and to sharing their faith with one another. It’s also cool to see that relationship developing between homeschool kids, parochial school kids, and public school kids,” Escala said.
Father Jesus Arias, pastor of Good Shepherd and Stella Maris FNE’s chaplain, witnessed and received the consecration of FNE members to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on July 27, feast of the Sacred Heart. The consecration took place after a Mass at St. John Vianney Seminary, and the members all received new patches to commemorate their consecration.
Explorer Leo Gonzalez, and Timber Wolves Christian Marmolejos and Luis Gonzalez explore a cave during the Stella Maris Explorers campout at Camp Owaissa Bauer in February 2014.
Prior to accepting the boys’ consecration, he asked the FNE members what they thought God will give them as young men when they consecrate themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The boys’ answers included: “grace, joy, love, eternal life, the courage to resist temptation, faith, hope, charity, and help to get along with our little brothers and sisters.”
“This group is a blessing because they reflect the youth,” said Father Arias. “Faith and family are at the center of their lives. They are here because of their faith. They can have fun but they put God at the center and involve the family in every way. Their identity is very strong in our Catholic faith and it is an example of the new evangelization, of bringing faith to the people of today and the love of Christ in the concrete.”
The Explorers took a brief summer hiatus and will reconvene again at a welcome meeting Sept. 12. Escala hopes to add a concurrent girls’ program to meet growing interest. Plans also include an Everglades airboat ride in October and additional camp-outs, service activities, and community-building events throughout the year.
“What I really like the most about Explorers is that I can be with friends who share the same faith,” said Christian Marmolejos, 12. “It’s a mind-blowing experience.”