Girl Scouts Meet With Pope Francis

Girl Scout Catherine Riordan with Pope Francis courtesy of “L’Isservatore Romano” SCV

Originally published on

On the day of the Epiphany in 1965, twenty-one Girl Guide associations established the International Catholic Conference of Guiding (ICCG). It was a time of radical change around the world — from the Vietnam War, to civil rights movements, to a growing environmental awareness — there was a sense that things were shifting. And, within the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council was developing to fit within this changing world.

This year, ICCG is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a gathering of over 200 representatives from Member Organizations from around the world. The meeting, which is being held in Rome, is coming at another time of change for the Catholic Church and the world — a time when the faith and dedication of Girl Scouts is critically needed.

Girl Scouts Make the World a Better Place

The Girl Scouts’ mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. It was founded over 100 years ago in Savannah, Georgia by Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low, who brought girls of all backgrounds into the “out-of-doors,” giving them the opportunity to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness. Active citizenship outside the home was — and still is — a key feature of Girl Scouts.

For many, active citizenship involves environmentalism. Many former Girls Scouts remember camping trips as a highlight of their experience, and identify “exposure to nature” as a main benefit of the organization. These experiences translate into a deeper understanding of our connection to nature. As a 10-year-old Girl Scout from Massachusetts described her experience with Girl Scouts, “I got to learn how I can really make a difference in the ecosystem by just taking small steps and being a team player in my troop.”

Faith-Based Citizenship and Activism

At the heart of Girl Scouting is the Girl Scout Promise and Law, which includes an oath and promise to serve God. The relationship between faith and citizenship has led many Girl Scouts to partner with organizations of all faiths to address issues of concern, like environmental clean up and education projects in their communities. In fact, many girls implement their Bronze, Silver, and Gold Award projects in partnership with their local parishes, temples, mosques, and other places of worship.

Although Girl Scouts is open to all faiths, the organization has had a long relationship with the Catholic Church. In 1924, Catholic girls from Girl Scouts of Greater New York Council sent Pope Pious XI a spiritual bouquet and ten-thousand lire, and in 1960 Girl Scout representatives had an audience with Pope John XXIII. The Girl Scouts have also received apostolic blessings from Popes Pious XI and Paul VI.

Pope Francis Meets With Girl Scout Leaders

This year, Pope Francis is showing his support for the Girl Scouts. He held an audience with Girl Scout leaders Anna Maria Chavez and Kathy Hopinkah Hannan of Girls Scouts of the USA, and will speak at the ICCG event to encourage and recognize the leaders from around the world who are dedicated to helping girls explore their faith through Girl Scouting.

“Faith is at the heart of Girl Scouts, and is woven into everything the organization does to inspire girls to take action to make the world a better place,” said Chavez.

“At Girl Scouts, faith unifies us an inspires us to take care of each other and the world around us,” said Hannan. “Our visit to Rome to engage with ICCG and Pope Francis exemplifies Girl Scouts’ inclusive culture that embraces all faiths and cultures, and reflects our commitment to encouraging girls to enter their own faith journey to find inspiration and meaning.”

Pope Francis’ Message Realized Through Girl Scouts

Like the year of its founding, the 50th anniversary of the ICCG is happening at a time of change in the world and in the Catholic Church. Overconsumption is causing pollution and mass extinction. Our reliance on outdated energy sources is causing severe storms, flooding, droughts, rising sea levels, and loss of life. And our increased obsession with technology is separating us from our natural world.

Two weeks ago, Pope Francis released an encyclical called “Praised Be: On Care for Our Common Home,” calling on us — Catholics and non-Catholics — to change our relationship with the Earth and those around us. He noted that “young people demand change” and urged us to consider the debris, desolation, and filth we are leaving for them.

Pope Francis’ support and involvement with organizations like the Girl Scouts speaks to his hope in today’s youth. Through their promise to serve God, their work to build tomorrow’s female leaders, and their love of the natural world, Girl Scouts have an important role to play in helping us all build a better world.

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