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Eighteen Utahns are in Rio de Janeiro right now, eager to participate in the upcoming World Youth Day, which is expected to draw more than a million Catholic kids from 170 countries for a week of service and celebration.

The rock star of next week's meeting will be Pope Francis, attending his first international gathering since being elected in March.

For those back in the Beehive State who couldn't make the trip, there is a fun alternative: a cardboard cutout of the pontiff. For good measure, Samantha Almanza, director of the Salt Lake City diocese's Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, also ordered life-sizereplicas of popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

"We thought we'd bring a little Brazil and a little of the universal aspect of the Catholic Church to kids here," Almanza says. "We will be in solidarity with those pilgrims in Brazil."

World Youth Day was created by John Paul in 1985, partly as a response to the United Nations' naming it International Youth Year. Since then, Catholic young people have gathered every three years. The galas have taken place in, among other sites, the U.S., Spain, Poland and Argentina, Francis' home.

The Utah version of the global event will be July 27 and will begin with a the service project to help refugees, followed by a "mini-carnival."

"It will bring together Catholic youths from all around our state," Almanza says, "to meet each other and to get excited about their faith."

Meanwhile, the little band of Utahns in Brazil will be seeing the Holy Father in person.

The 18- to 30-year-olds, who raised more than $60,000 from family, friends and other donors for the trip, "are over the moon about the people, the celebration of faith, the food and the new friends," says Jon Dalton, campus minister at St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center, who is traveling with them.

"Now that we are here, everyone is in awe of the sheer number of young people from all over the world," Dalton writes in an email from Rio. "Their witness to the  Catholic faith, rooted in tradition which transcends culture, is inspiring."

These pilgrims are discovering, Dalton says, that being in the "Body of Christ" is "so much bigger than us as individuals, as a community or even us as a country. It means we are part of the faith and challenged to grow in it."

And they are thrilled by the chance to see their new spiritual leader.

"Over the past several months, [Francis] has rallied the youth to step out and make their faith tangible in their lives. He has set forth an example of humility, simplicity and joyful peace. I hope this is contagious and he changes these young for the better," the campus minister says. "We are blessed by example from this holy man."

The young people back home are also moved by their pope, Almanza says. As part of their daylong celebration, they will watch Francis' address from Brazil on a large video monitor. Then the Catholic devotees can take photos of themselves with the charismatic pope — even if he's only a cutout.

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