BY CHRISTOPHER MCMULLAN
Youth Speak News, The Catholic Register
The Court of Honour had to accept Patrick Chong before he could become a full member of the Den. "I was kind of nervous," he said. Ultimately, they admitted him. He now enjoys going to their weekly meetings and being a "Sixer," or one of the small group leaders. Each week the Akela, or adult leader of the Den, leads the boys in sports and activities and lines up guest speakers for the evening.
Patrick is a member of the 1st Four Arrows Group - Federation of North-American Explorers, or FNE. The Ontario-based group is the only one of its kind outside Europe. The group draws upon the teachings of Lord Baden-Powell, while maintaining a strong focus on Catholicism. The program was inspired by the tenets of the Federation of Scouts of Europe, founded in 1956 and now 56,000-members strong, which put the practices of our program at the service of the apostolate of the church.
Paul Ritchi, the North American founder, sees a great need among today's youth for the skills that FNE imparts.
"Youth are focused on computers and video games and modern conveniences," he said. "They need more positive adult role models and to learn how to live with people of different backgrounds." To that end, the emphasis is on sports, group outings and guest speakers. The FNE has also teamed up with the Office of Catholic Youth in Toronto to help feed the homeless.
About 20 per cent of the children who attend the regular meetings and camps come from single-parent families. Ritchi says this is an opportunity for them to explore life in a "safe, constructed and well-balanced manner," and to find leaders they can emulate. Many return home with a newfound respect for their family and the world as a whole.
The 1st Four Arrows are divided into sections by gender and age. A new applicant must earn their "promise cross," which takes from six to eight months, after which they are considered a full member. Children are taught moral and leadership development and an emphasis on selflessness and devotion to family; for Explorers, the first responsibility is at home.
The FNE uniform consisting of a tan shirt and stetson along with a belt, shorts and knee socks, while displaying the group's Catholic character with a clip for a one-decade rosary, worn on the right side. The scarf colours, red and blue, represent the wine and water used at Mass.
Ritchi believes the Catholic faith is central to his group's success. Since its founding in 1999, the group has grown from 12 members to 130. In March 2005, 21 boys between ages 11-15 made a pilgrimage to Rome and received a blessing from Pope John Paul II on Easter Sunday. Upon Benedict XVI's election, they sent him a letter of congratulation, including children's testimonies from the pilgrimage. In reply, the Vatican's secretariat of state forwarded a papal blessing to the group on Benedict's behalf. "We've really been blessed," Ritchi said. "We never asked for it." The FNE are planning to take another pilgrimage to Rome next Easter.
The Explorers use Camp Endobanah, some 135 km northeast of Toronto, for weekend excursions. Activities include learning basic survival skills as well as daily prayers and reciting the rosary. Campers attend church on Sundays.
Charlotte Fracassi, the Akela of the Singum Girl Timber Wolves (for girls nine-12), was attracted to the group because of the comfort level she felt at the first meeting. For her, the 1st Four Arrows provides opportunities for her youngest daughter, Julia, to have fun in a group with good morals with the attributes of our larger Explorer movement.
"I come from Saskatchewan," Fracassi said, but in Ontario, "the country is a big deal." What also helps to set FNE apart is their emphasis on faith. "I felt the difference," she said, with the group's Catholic focus.
Ritchi wants the group to retain that Catholic focus as it expands over the next 10 years. He wants to see the group swell to 1,500 Canadian members while never sacrificing connections with local parishes and under the best possible leaders. The effort so far has "taken a tremendous amount of work, sweat and frustration," he said and nothing has been easy. But his goal is to reach as many souls as possible.
The reason why children like Patrick Chong enjoy the program is much simpler: "It's fun," said Chong.
For more information on the Federation of North American Explorers (FNE), contact Ritchi at email@example.com.
(McMullan, 20, is a history student at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.)
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