They were united in faith, even though they were about 2,000 miles apart.

About 1,400 young adult Catholics from 30 dioceses across the United States gathered on Jan. 26 for Panama in the City, a stateside festival in Washington, D.C., hosted by The Catholic University of America that mirrored World Youth Day in Panama City, Panama, where Pope Francis joined hundreds of thousands of their peers from around the globe.

Panama in the City gave those young adults in the nation’s capital the chance to make their own World Youth Day pilgrimage, in prayerful solidarity with the pilgrims in Panama.

In Washington, the young adults attended a Vigil Mass in the Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and then prayed together at a reverent candlelight Stations of the Cross in the basilica’s Crypt Church. In Panama, Pope Francis led a Way of the Cross and evening prayer vigil for the World Youth Day pilgrims and celebrated a closing Mass for them.

The main sponsors of Panama in the Capital included the Catholic Apostolate Center, the Grotto Network, the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, the Embassy of Panama, and the Archdiocese of Washington. 

To get a flavor of Panama, the Washington gathering included Panamanian cuisine and dancers, and like the main World Youth Day gathering, the stateside event offered pilgrims the opportunity to do a lot of walking, between catechetical sessions at Catholic University and the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, and the liturgical celebrations at the basilica. Both gatherings offered opportunities for fun and fellowship. Panama in the Capital included many musical performances and a closing concert.

Young adult Catholics enjoy the closing concert at the Jan. 16 Panama in the Capital event, a stateside celebration at The Catholic University of America coinciding with World Youth Day in Panama City. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

And in the international and domestic World Youth Day gatherings, the young adult pilgrims were encouraged to be witnesses to their Catholic faith when they returned home.

Speaking before the Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine, Pallottine Father Frank Donio, the director of the Catholic Apostolate Center, told the young adults, that, like the Apostles, today’s Christians are called to go “out into the world, (and) to bring the love of Christ to those we encounter.”

Like Pope Francis did in Panama, the priest encouraged the pilgrims to be missionary disciples in today’s world: “That is our call, to live holiness in our everyday lives, in all that we say and all that we do.”

Earlier at a panel discussion on Christian leadership, Mark Shriver – the senior vice president of U.S. programs and advocacy at Save the Children who wrote a biography of Pope Francis – noted that the pope has said that living your faith means that sometimes “you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone, (and) get the mud of the street on your shoes.”

In that same panel, Elise Crawford Gallagher, the founder and CEO of RINGLET, a digital marketing agency that serves women-owned small businesses in the D.C. area, said that women, whether they are the CEOs of a company or stay-at-home moms, can show Christian leadership by following Mary’s example of being faithful to God’s will. Mary, she said, “gave her small ‘yes.’ That’s what we’re called to do each day as leaders, to give our small ‘yes’ to the Lord every day and answer what He’s calling us to do.”

Also on that panel, Gerald Smith, the principal of St. Thomas More Catholic Academy, in Washington, D.C., said that as a leader at that center city school, he tries to go out to the edges and meet people where they are and try to uplift them. “We’re planting seeds of faith in each person we come in contact with,” he said.

The pilgrims in Washington and in Panama experienced a sense of solidarity with the Catholic young adults who had come from near and far to pray with them.

The Catholic Standard’s reporter Kelly Sankowski, in a dispatch from World Youth Day in Panama, noted that at the pope’s closing Mass there, “As the hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world received Communion, they joined in singing, ‘We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone.’”

Reflecting on his World Youth Day experience, Harry Sadsad from Australia told the Catholic Standard that Panama, a land bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, “has brought the Church and the world together in these few days.”That was equally true for the Catholic young adults celebrating World Youth Day at Panama in the Capital in Washington, D.C.

Before the Vigil Mass at the National Shrine, Megan Philip, the coordinator of campus and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Washington, noted that the Panama in the Capital gathering offered a reminder that the Christian journey in one’s life “is a constant pilgrimage… We know this day is part of one great journey to Christ for each one of us.”

And for the young adult pilgrims who have returned home from those World Youth Day gatherings in Panama and in Washington, D.C., that journey continues.