By STEVE DABROWSKI
IT SEEMS TO ME
Against the backdrop of COVID decisions impacting other large, gathered ministry events, the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry began examining how we might proceed with OYAYA’s annual Pilgrimage for Life to Washington, D.C. During a series of meetings, two key issues arose:
- What steps could be taken should a participant develop symptoms and/or test positive at any point during the Pilgrimage?
- Given U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) guidelines that require masks on charter buses, is it reasonable to expect participants to wear masks during the long bus journeys between the Diocese and Washington, D.C.?
In the first instance, although we could quarantine participants at the hotel, we are not able to quarantine large numbers. Further, we would be unable to transport anyone testing positive for COVID on the bus with other participants as the risk for transmission would be considerable. Thus the only option available would be to quarantine participants until a parent or legal guardian made the 12-hour drive to D.C. to collect an ill child. This would be an unreasonable expectation for many reasons, not the least of which is the considerable burden it would place on families. Further, should a large number of youth become ill, it would be possible for larger transmission of the virus throughout the schools and parishes those young people attend.
In the second instance, OYAYA has received calls and feedback from youth ministers and parishes considering attending the Pilgrimage that have stated a mask policy would severely impact the number of youth interested. Unfortunately, this policy is not set by the Diocese; rather, the U.S. Department of Transportation mandates the wearing of masks on chartered vehicles, thus we are obliged to follow this directive:
The CDC Order, consistent with the mandate in Executive Order 13998 to implement additional measures to protect public health in domestic travel, requires a mask to be worn by any operator or passenger traveling on a conveyance within the United States, unless otherwise exempted. Conveyances include all road vehicles (subject to certain exceptions, e.g., for private conveyances operated solely for personal, non-commercial use), including charter buses, buses operating on irregular routes, and buses operated by private motor carriers of passengers.
For our part, requiring masks for what could be periods of up to 36 hours straight seems an unreasonable burden.
Naturally, there are many other considerations; however, given the above, after consultation with Bishop Siegel and other diocesan administrators, the decision was made to cancel this year's Pilgrimage for Life in the interest of the health and safety of participants.
At this time, the Diocese of Evansville is planning to operate the “C2ND” resource page (https://www.evdio.org/c2nd-landing-page.html) instituted last year, and two new video segments will be added featuring additional dimensions of Church teaching on life issues. Other events are being considered, and these will be promoted should plans develop.
We lament the decision to cancel the Pilgrimage for Life as it is a necessary, prayerful stand against the evils that attack life in our nation--from conception to natural death. There are many opinions regarding what is best in such situations, and I would suspect not everyone will agree with this decision. Still, the safety and well-being of pilgrims is crucial, and for the reasons above, there did not appear to be a path to continuing the pilgrimage this January.
Let us continue to pray for an enhanced understanding of the dignity and sacredness of all human life, from conception to natural death.