The history of the birth of the ICCG reveals some ongoing challenges

After several years of development, the ICCG was officially born in 1965 through the work of a group of Catholic Guide leaders. It was a considerable challenge to situate the ICCG both within WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), an organisation that caters for all cultures and religions, and within the Catholic Church. The history of the birth of the ICCG reveals challenges that women, the Church and the world continue to face today.

On the day of Epiphany in 1965, twenty-one organisations created the ICCG. The Second Vatican Council had just commenced, opening new paths for the relationship held by Catholics with respect to the rest of the word. It had now been over 35 years since the notion of a specifically Catholic Guiding movement had first germinated in WAGGGS – this being a notion that allowed Catholics to enrich, through their own faith, the spiritual principles held in common by all Guides throughout the world.

In the 1930s Guiding was already internationally widespread. In Europe a number of Catholic Guiding organisations were established alongside predominantly Protestant Girl Scout groups. The London-based World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) was organised, bringing together representatives from countries where the Guides movement was already active. It was WAGGGS that facilitated the meetings which laid the foundations for the ICCG. In 1935 the Catholic Guides of Belgium, during a meeting of senior Guides in Brussels, took the initiative to organise a conference of Catholic Guide leaders. Having officially accepted the title of “International Catholic Congress”, the Conference’s report was distributed by the director of the WAGGGS World Bureau herself.

The Second World War interrupted these initiatives, completely preventing further activity by the Guide movement in a number of countries. Meetings between the Catholic Girl Guide leaders resumed after the war at the initiative of representatives from the European member countries, who had now also been joined by Canada. The first meeting was held in 1948, at Foxlease in Britain. These meetings continued to take place once every two years for the next ten years. The meetings deepened the concept of Guiding, highlighting the way that it can be used to teach faith. The meetings were thought of as educational sessions and were used to explore the various possibilities offered by Guiding as illumined by the Gospel and Church teachings.

Joining both WAGGGS and the Church, a real challenge

In 1958, in Tutzing, Bavaria, the desire for a permanent organisation was born. The details of this aspiration were clarified in 1960 at the 7th International Conference of Catholic Guides (‘the Catholic Conference’) in Compiègne (France): the Catholic Secretariat would be responsible for the relationship with WAGGGS; it would consult with the various national Guiding organisations about the needs of their Catholic members and decide on the form through which Catholic Guides could become involved in international Church bodies.

Various international Catholic organizations (ICOs) had been working throughout the vast field of the Apostolate of the Laity. Since 1951, these ICOs had been gradually organising themselves into a formal conference. Consistent with this trend, the Catholic Secretariat, composed of heads of national associations representing Catholic Guides, first approached the Holy See in 1963. Around the same time the Secretariat also formed a relationship with the WAGGGS World Bureau. This was done with a view to explaining the work of the Catholic Conference, and to ensure that this work was well positioned within the broader WAGGGS framework. This positioning was a difficult mission – a number of member associations of the WAGGGS World Bureau expressed concern that the proposal might undermine WAGGGS’ unity. The WAGGGS World Bureau, accordingly, sought to make direct contact with the Catholic representatives in order to explore alternatives that were more closely tied to the notion of WAGGGS as a “religious interfaith committee”. For several months, several proposed versions of the ICCG constitution went to and fro between the World Bureau and the Vatican. Ultimately, however, these efforts proved unsuccessful.

On 12 August 1964, the General Secretary of the Catholic Conference was officially informed that, having read the draft statutes of the Conference, the Holy Father had given his approval to the Conference ad experimentum for three years. On 16 October 1964, the Vatican Secretariat of State received the President of the WAGGGS World Committee and the General Secretary of the Catholic Secretariat. The foundations of the modus agendi governing relations between the Catholic Conference and WAGGGS were clarified here.

On the day of Epiphany in 1965, in Rome, twenty-one Girl Guide associations established the International Catholic Conference of Guiding, signing its Charter, its Statutes and approving its Internal Rules. The ICCG had thus achieved recognition before two bodies: the Church and WAGGGS.

The influence of Vatican II

The inaugural meeting of the ICCG took place during the Second Vatican Council. For the Church, this was a period of constant activity, rich with excitement, fervour and doctrinal and pastoral development. Although the main issue for the ICCG at the time of its creation was education, the ICCG was called upon to respond to new issues generated by the events and spirit of the times. Paul VI”s encyclical Populorum Progressio, which concerned the development of people, hit the Conference head-on, calling on it to plough new paths for the development of “every man and all men.”

The ICCG quickly launched into action via a number of regional initiatives. In 1968, at the invitation of the Guides of Colombia, the first Latin American meeting of the ICCG took place in Bogota with 17 countries participating (the International Eucharistic Congress was being held in Columbia at the time, with Pope Paul VI present). Africa, in turn, held its first regional meeting in Yaounde in Cameroon, recognising “Guiding as a means of evangelisation”. The Middle East, Madagascar, Europe and Canada were all to follow, each bringing with them their own life, their own Church experience.

In August 1968, acting on a motion proposed by the Guides of Columbia, Catholic Guide leaders frankly acknowledged that the Gospel’s liberating message was itself undergoing a liberalising educational process. In January 1973, the Lebanese Girl Guides Association hosted the first meeting of chaplains and Christian Girl Guide leaders of the Middle East. Egypt, in turn, hosted a meeting of this sort in 1978. More and more similar meetings were to follow.

At the world meeting held in 1974 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, this concept of a liberalising form of education, which originated in Latin America, was incorporated into the core of the global ICCG. For Guiding, this concept implied the role of “liberating” the young girl – liberating her from all of the types of bondage laid on her by society; from the pitfalls of the consumer system; from the cultural and historical structures that entrap women in situations of submission or oppression and which serve only to marginalise and exclude women.

Faith thus ceased to be a separate component of Guiding practice, to be expressed merely at the opening or conclusion of a meeting, or limited to Mass. It now became the very fabric of Guide life and, hence, of life itself. Faith had now become integrated into the core programs of Guiding, its activities, and its active, communitarian teaching. It was these aspects of Catholic Guiding that came to form the movement’s main means of evangelisation. Understandably, this implied that Girl Guide leaders should receive certain training. The movement’s drive to develop programs of this sort came to be reflected, over the years, in its various meeting papers and training documents. Such documents pertaining to both regional and global initiatives came to form the roots and history of the ICCG.

Towards new modes of male / female relationships

It therefore not surprising that the leaders of the ICCG, having been engaged in a liberating form of education for 10 years and being teachers in a women’s association, came to question the socially accepted identity of women. A long and difficult project was commenced, working against the current of all accepted social thinking, to open up new modes of male / female relations.

For the ICCG, this was neither about freeing woman from man, nor about freeing man; rather, it was about freeing both man and woman from their accepted social roles and cultural behaviours in order to enable them, together, to adopt new ways of perceiving one another. Educating girls would never achieve any purpose if, at the same time, boys’ education did not direct them towards the correct path with respect to women, to their identity and to their right to responsibility.

The ICCG thus became a tolerant school with a universal world view that allowed for an open-minded education. This much is confirmed by the main themes that characterised its world meetings which came to take place every three years.

In 2012, as Guiding celebrated 100 years of existence, faithful to the spirit that inspired the movement’s founders, and under the continued inspiration of Vatican II, the ICCG renewed the following affirmation:

“Man and Woman, we shape history together, we seek the liberation of all so as to perfect our image with that of God. Male and Female, we serve to educate in the ways of the Gospel and wish for Guiding to be a perpetual Pentecost.

With the help of the Holy Spirit which presents himself to us in all his might, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of unity, we want to continue to walk the paths of the Disciples of Christ and to do so through an alliance between men and women”(1).


Symposium on the 20th Anniversary of the ICCG 20, Rome, 1987, presentation by MTC (available via the ICCG website on the ‘Who we are’ webpage)

Editorial from the Sichem 2011 annual report, global meeting of ICCG chaplains at Rome, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Guiding, regarding the theme “Man and woman he created them” (available on the website)

From 1980 to 2011, the themes of the ICCG global meetings reveal the way in which its agenda developed:

1980 Madagascar: “Living the Gospel as a liberating experience in our communities”

1983 Rodizio, Portugal: “Being a woman – becoming responsible”

1986 Canada: “Guides, woman, a chance for the future”

1989 Altenberg, Germany “The path is the aim” (unity of the person)

1992 Cochabamba, Bolivia: adoption of the Constitution of the ‘Commission of the future’; the role of the Commission would be to investigate the feasibility of the proposed decentralisation process.

1994 Mozet, Belgium: the Council accepts the conclusions of the Commission and votes in favour of decentralisation.

1997 Assise, Italy: the ICCG launches World Youth Day in Paris.

2000 Lomé, Togo: “Let us dare for a new language”. The Council discusses its new statutes with the Director of the WAGGGS World Bureau.

2003 Buenos Aires, Argentina: “The teenagers’ voice is the voice of the ICCG”

2006 Warsaw, Poland: “We will walk in your paths”

2009 Dublin, Ireland: “Disciples and missionaries on the paths of Guiding”

2012 Amman, Jordan: “Crossing to the other bank”

Marie Thérèse Cheroutre, former Guide who played a role in the establishment of the ICCG

In the 1960s, I was Chief Commissioner of the Guides of France. The terrible consequences of the Second World War had partly subsided. It was a period of digital vitality, economic expansion, and of international relations.

The Second Vatican Council was on the horizon, convened by Pope John XXIII. His encyclical Pacem in Terris addressed to “all men, all nations, a message of salvation, love and peace”. At youth level, the international Catholic organizations (ICOs) recognized by the Holy See were growing and actively participating in conferences and meetings in the lay apostolate and the life of the universal Church. However, the national Guiding organisations, having opted for spiritual education in line with the churches of their respective countries, felt impoverished for not being able to participate in the life of the universal Church.

They were active members and in many cases founders of the important WAGGGS which was developing through young women and whose “mission is to enable girls and young women to fully develop their potential as citizens of the world who are aware of their responsibilities.” WAGGGS is open to all religions, beliefs and modes of spirituality, yet it cannot represent any particular one of them.

Having been elected in 1963 as International Secretary, I can attest to the hard work that it took to create an original ICO that was so tightly connected to a global non-denominational body (WAGGGS). I can attest to the rigour with which the Secretariat of State helped us to finalise various statutes, the charter, and the membership requirements; and also its understanding of our need to recognise various different forms of Catholic Guiding, and to maintain our involvement with the sole international Guiding head organisation, WAGGGS. But I also want to note the breadth of vision of the WAGGGS representatives, the persistent care with which they would consult the Association’s spiritual principles, with which they preserved the organisation’s unity in the face of an anxiety, expressed by several countries, that it could be shattered by the creation of a Catholic body.

Don Giorgio Bassadona, First ICCG World Ecclesiastical Assistant

The life of the International Catholic Conference of Guiding (ICCG) can be considered through the large conferences that, over the years, have brought together many association members and countries interested in what ICCG has to offer. The basic idea—the goal, the desire that inspired ICCG’s founding and led, little by little, to its expansion—was a vision of guiding as an experience rich in possibilities for human and Christian education, particularly with regard to women.  The life of national associations, activities, and the program already provided valuable information and insight into alternate approaches and pathways. Thus, it became desirable to better understand the situation within each association in order to address and reflect on this experience and, further, to take additional steps along the way. From this process of service and research, the Charter of Catholic Guiding was created as the starting point for ICCG.

It was in Brazil, at the 1970 world conference, that we began to recognise the wealth of foresight at the heart of the Latin-American Church. We saw the effectiveness of liberation education, born of the Christian faith, and of the education that practicing Catholic scouts and guides could offer to young women and, through them, to society as a whole. Accordingly, the Charter affirms that Catholics “recognise the values of the Gospel in the fundamentally liberating education proposed by the guide method, which is capable of leading to the full responsibility and integral development of each person.”

I believe that ICCG must continue its fight—or, better, its positive actions—on behalf of women. Big changes are taking place in world traditions that may give the illusion of a promotion of women, an equality of the sexes, and a mutual respect between men and women; but in reality, with the exception of certain developments, we continue to live in the past, where women are relegated to a secondary tier of humanity and remain outside the official framework. ICCG has the opportunity and the experience to support women on their long journey in society, through scouting as well as through the Church.

Excerpt from the Symposium report for the 20th Anniversary of ICCG, Rome 1985.