This January, young people from all over the world will be gathering in Panama City, Panama for a weeklong celebration called World Youth Day. The celebration is held in a different city around the world every two to three years.

Saint Pope John Paul II established World Youth Day in 1985 as an opportunity to celebrate and strengthen the faith of Catholic youth and young adults. The most recent World Youth Day was held in Kraków, Poland in 2016, and 3 million people from around the world attended.

The people who attend World Youth Day are usually referred to as “pilgrims,” because they are making a pilgrimage while traveling to wherever the celebration is being held. A pilgrimage is a journey with a religious purpose. For example, many people travel to the Holy Land to see where Jesus was born and lived his life.

Though all of the young people who attend World Youth Day speak different languages and are from different cultures, they share the Catholic faith. On the last day of the celebration, all of the pilgrims always gather together for a big Mass, celebrated by the pope. Because the Mass is celebrated more or less the same way in every country, all of the World Youth Day pilgrims are able to participate in it together, saying the words in their own language.

The night before that big Mass, all of the pilgrims camp out together in the big field where the Mass is held. Often, the people from different groups will wave flags from their home country, trade tokens of their country with other pilgrims, and sing songs as they await the Mass the next morning.

Throughout the week leading up to that main event, the pilgrims have the opportunity to meet each other and explore the city. There are several days dedicated specifically to catechesis – or learning new things about the Catholic faith.

Each host city does things a little bit differently, reflecting its own culture and geography. This year, the celebration in Panama City will include a youth festival where young people from around the world can share their artistic and religious talents through music, theatre, dance, and other exhibits.

There is also going to be a “forgiveness park” in Panama City, where pilgrims can go throughout the week to receive God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This year’s theme is “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” which Mary said to the angel Gabriel after he told her that she would be giving birth to Jesus. With this theme, Pope Francis hopes that young people will reflect upon what God is calling them to do and say “Yes” to Him, just like Mary did.

Many people who attend World Youth Day say it brings them closer to Jesus and gives them a new appreciation for the Church. Many priests in the Archdiocese of Washington can trace their calling to the priesthood back to their experience there.

While not everyone can travel to World Youth Day, everyone can grow closer to God by participating in the pilgrimage through prayer. As young people gather in Panama from January 22-27, you can pray for them, for Pope Francis, and also for God to guide you in your own life.

Maybe you can also make a pilgrimage of your own, by going to somewhere nearby with a special spiritual significance. A lot of people in the United States travel to Washington, D.C. to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is the largest Catholic church in the United States and North America. It has more than 80 chapels inside, each sponsored by different ethnic communities. Or, maybe you can make a pilgrimage to your local parish to go to Adoration or receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Whatever you decide to do, you will be joined by millions of other young people around the world who are all celebrating our Catholic faith and growing closer to God.