Pilgrimage Safety - Trips Within the U.S.

The high school junior class is planning a service retreat. The Altar Rosary Society is going to the Marian shrine for the Five First Saturdays devotion. The youth group will travel to Washington, D.C. to present an offering of prayers and letters at the state capitol. While these activities bring joyful opportunities for bonding and spiritual growth, there are also risk management challenges to take into consideration.

Proper planning and good judgment will most often determine the success of your trip. Before starting however, group leaders should discuss whether the trip is the best way to accomplish their educational, inspirational or formational goals.  If it is, then let the planning begin!

Each of the scenarios above has its own challenges. The high school juniors will have to sleep over because retreat is a three-day event, punctuated with projects that help them interact with needy children and homeless adults. Fortunately, the retreat house has enough room for the group and the chaperones. 

These are important guidelines:

  • Students should share rooms with classmates of the same age and gender.
  • Chaperones should be housed in pairs, with other chaperones. This helps prevent a chaperone from hosting a student in a private location. It also offers protection against any claim that a student was “invited” to an adult’s room unsupervised. 
  • If the bus driver stays overnight, he or she should be housed in a single room off-site.
  • There should be a curfew and there must be periodic room checks throughout the evening.
  • Staff and chaperones must be mindful of alcohol and illegal drug use among students. To avoid student access to alcohol, staff and chaperones should not drink alcohol while on the trip.
  • Students may not leave the retreat facility by themselves for any reason.
  • When the group travels to the service sites, i.e. child care center, soup kitchen and shelter, the students and chaperones should be advised to leave cell phones, electronic devices and valuables at the retreat house, both out of respect for the people they will meet and to limit the possibility of theft or loss.

The Altar Rosary group is primarily retirees. They’ve been together for years and they look forward to the camaraderie and the shared faith experience. A few risk management issues should be addressed to ensure reasonable safety measures are considered for all participants:

  • The organizer has to make sure the bus company reserves a coach bus, with a restroom and well-maintained heating and air conditioning. 
  • It’s a full day trip and several of the Saturdays are predictably warm. Bring a cooler of water, with extra cases that can be put on ice on arrival at the shrine for the return trip. Discourage the pilgrims from bringing alcoholic beverages for refreshment after the program.
  • Arrange for a lunch or supper stop on the bus, or cater a box lunch through the shrine or your local deli.
  • Make sure you have emergency contact and pertinent medical information for all participants. 
  • Check to ensure your portable AED device is in good operating condition before the trip and confirm that at least one of the organizers is trained in its use. 
  • Replenish the First Aid kit and put it on the bus. Make sure participants who need inhalers, Epi-pens or other medications bring them. Be sure to include low-dose aspirin in your first aid kit as many kits do not include this item.

The youth group is bursting with energy and enthusiasm. They have been discussing the issues in class for months, preparing their letters, and practicing their prayers since the trip was announced. 

Here are risk management issues to consider:

  • Determine method of travel to the capitol.  The best method of travel would be the use of hired transportation such as a commercial bus company or professional driver with appropriate license and insurance.  A second option may be the use of rental cars.  Lastly, volunteer drivers may be used as a last resort.  Ensure any volunteer drivers complete the volunteer driver form and each volunteer must be advise that the volunteer’s personal auto insurance is always primary in the event of an accident.
  • Obtain permission from each parent allowing the child to attend the event.  The permission slip should also indicate the method of travel, who is in charge along with contact phone number, and a hold harmless agreement.
  • Establish a meeting spot, “just in case.”
  • The trip organizer should determine the route in advance and communicate it to all drivers. 
  • Identify the major hospitals in the nearby area you are visiting.  Write down the address and phone number on a note card or store this information in your smart phone.

In all of our scenarios:

  • If using a chartered bus, obtain a certificate of auto liability insurance from the carrier, listing the Diocese of Brooklyn, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and the parish/school as an additional insured with coverage of at least $1 million.
  • Diocesan policy specifically prohibits the use of 11-15 passenger vans for transportation.  They may not be owned, rented, or used by volunteers.
  • Organizers should keep charged cell phones with them at all times, but they MUST NOT use (talk or text) them while driving.  

The pilgrimage or religious field trip can be a wonderful and uplifting spiritual experience when proper planning and good judgment are put to use.  Please contact the Parish Service Corporation to discuss any risk management issues or challenges you may face when planning your next trip.