By Steve Dabrowski, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry
Special to The Message
Several years ago, a future nun became violently ill on my bus during our trip from the Diocese of Evansville to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. A nasty stomach bug had broken out on our pilgrimage buses, and several folks had been stricken. A holy young woman (she is now a Dominican Sister), she hated the thought that she could make such a long journey only to have to sleep on the bus while others marched; yet that’s precisely what transpired.
That event taught me a valuable lesson. Every year, I hold back three “quarantine rooms” at our hotel for the Pilgrimage for Life. Those rooms rarely go unfilled as a parent will often put their child on the bus with a 100-degree temperature without informing their parish youth minister; and by the time we arrive in D.C., we have 2-3 people who need to be separated from the group. There have been years where the illness spread like wildfire – but none of those were anything like COVID-19.
You may have read the short announcement in the Oct. 30 issue of The Message that, with great disappointment, I made the decision to cancel the Diocese of Evansville’s 2021 Pilgrimage for Life. As I think back on the sick future nun, I have great conviction that this is the best decision for all involved; after all, I have rarely witnessed how quickly a contagious illness can infect others than when they are in a closed bus for 12 hours in the middle of winter. Knowing what we now understand about COVID-19, I just could not risk the health and safety of our youth and chaperons.
Whereas it is crucial to continue to publicly oppose the flawed Supreme Court decision in 1973 that has led to the loss of millions of lives, we must always consider the health and safety of the youth and chaperons who make the Pilgrimage for Life each year. Over the last several months, we have monitored a number of factors that would predict the level of risk related to the annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. Several issues have been considered, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Bus travel simply cannot accommodate social distancing as the shared airspace is recirculated for long periods of time.
- Truck stops and rest areas are prime locations for disease spread as shared restrooms and common areas cannot be sanitized with a group of our usual size.
- The events we attend in the Diocese of Arlington and the Archdiocese of Washington have been cancelled or gone virtual.
- Virginia remains in Stage 3, restricting all public gatherings to fewer than 250 people (the approximate size of our usual pilgrimage).
- Hotel rooms could only accommodate social distancing if rooms were limited to doubles, and our hotel would no longer be able to accommodate our group.
- The hotel ballroom (used for breakfast and meetings) would exceed Virginia's group limits.
- Our host parish would experience an unreasonable burden in attempting to clean and sanitize common areas used for meals and gatherings (and again, these gatherings would violate Virginia's maximum group size limits).
- The average age of our host parish's volunteers places many in higher-risk categories.
- In recent days, infection numbers have dramatically increased across the U.S., and this is predicted to continue through the winter.
- Although there is promising news regarding a vaccine this week, it is not likely to be available to the general public until well after our January pilgrimage.
Again, this is not a complete list; but it does provide many of the factors that have been considered over the last several months. It was hoped that newer treatments, the development of an effective vaccine, and decreasing numbers of cases nationally would lessen the risk, thus making the 11th annual Pilgrimage for Life possible. Unfortunately, these hopes have not been realized; as a result, the 2021 Pilgrimage for Life has been cancelled.
We will not, however, let this crucial observance go unnoticed. Several diocesan offices are currently planning programs and creating resources that will allow parishes and schools to observe the anniversary of Roe v. Wade (details will follow in a future edition of The Message). As the diocesan pilgrimage has been cancelled, parishes and schools are asked not to plan similar trips or travel with other groups as such activities would carry the same risks. The activities and resources just mentioned will be designed to assist young people to make a noticeable stand in favor of all human life, from conception to natural death, and it is hoped that many parishes and schools will make use of the resources. How the parishes and schools utilize these resources will vary, yet it is hoped that local observations will be a powerful witness to the dignity of the human person.
Let us continually pray for a cultural change that will usher in a true respect for life, and let us never tire of witnessing to the reality that all life is sacred, from conception to natural death.