By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Every four years, Boy Scouts of America have an opportunity to participate in the National Jamboree.
Priests, too have an opportunity to participate in the jamboree — as volunteer chaplains.
Father Mark Spring of the Diocese of Davenport has participated in the jamboree in both capacities. The parochial vicar of parishes in Fort Madison and Montrose, Fr. Spring first attended the quadrennial celebration in 1967 as a youth. He had an unforgettable experience mingling with other scouts and meeting Lady Baden-Powell, the wife of Boy Scouts founder Lord Baden-Powell.
Fr. Spring said the moral values and ideology of the Boy Scouts made a “big difference” in his journey to the priesthood. So, after becoming a priest in the 1980s, Fr. Spring began volunteering at the jamborees as a chaplain. The National Jamboree July 19-28 in Glen Jean, W.Va., marked his seventh time serving in this capacity.
Both Catholic and Protestant leaders volunteer at the jamboree to attend to the spiritual needs of the tens of thousands of youths at the event. Catholic chaplains have many responsibilities at the jamboree, including celebrating daily Mass in the sub-camps, hearing confessions, visiting the injured and infirm and providing the sacrament of the sick. But the main priority, in Fr. Spring’s experience, is for the priest to be visible to the scouts as someone they can turn to in times of need. “They might be homesick, depressed, or unsure as to whether they want to be there or why they’re there. I think, for the most part, we reassure scouts who have those feelings that everything’s going to be okay.”
On the second Sunday of the jamboree, a camp-wide Mass takes place in the camp arena. Generally, a high-profile Catholic prelate serves as celebrant. This year, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Christophe Pierre celebrated the Mass and preached a homily. It’s the first time in recent memory that an apostolic nuncio has celebrated the Mass. Fr. Spring said the organizers asked Archbishop Pierre far in advance on the off-chance that he might be available. As it turned out, he was free July 23 and was willing to participate.
Fr. Spring and several other priests at the jamboree concelebrated the Mass with the apostolic nuncio. About 8,000 Scouts attended the Mass, according to Catholic News Service. After the Mass, Archbishop Pierre had brunch with the chaplains and posed for photographs. “He was very gracious and remembered the ordination of our new bishop,” Fr. Spring said. “It was one of those rare moments in a priest’s life where you have an opportunity to intermingle with different prelates of the church.”
At the jamboree, patch trading is one of the many activities that scouts do. In a day and age when technology can connect as well as isolate youths, the practice warms Fr. Spring’s heart. “Instead of focusing on electronic devices, Scouts by the hundreds trade patches with one another. Through this process they learn to communicate with one another, and when the trade is made, a hand shake finalizes the trade.”
When he is not serving at the jamboree, Fr. Spring is involved in the National Catholic Committee on Scouting as chaplain of Region 9, which includes eastern Iowa.
He is grateful for the opportunity he’s had to be active in the Boy Scouts for the better part of 60 years, and the jamborees are highlights. It’s “amazing to witness thousands of Scouts coming together and living in harmony for 10 days.”