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Catholic youths converge on Rio to see “slum pope”

  • Nuns carrying Argentine and Vatican flags gather to board a bus bound for Rio de Janeiro, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, July 19, 2013. The nuns and hundreds of Argentine faithful will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to attend World Youth Day events from July 22-28 with Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

    Nuns carrying Argentine and Vatican flags gather to board a bus bound for Rio de Janeiro, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, July 19, 2013. The nuns and hundreds of Argentine faithful will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to attend World Youth Day events from July 22-28 with Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

  • Venezuelans, Neysmar Rondon, 18, from left to right, Raisamar Gutierrez, 23, Maria Albernoz, 24, Liz Petit, 26, and Maria Gonzales, 19, hold a representation of their country's national flag as they pose for a photo after their arrival at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, July 19, 2013. Thousands of young Roman Catholics from around the Americas are converging on Rio de Janeiro, taking days-long bus trips or expensive plane flights that were paid for by baking cookies and holding garage sales, running raffles and bingo tournaments and even begging for coins in public plazas. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

    Venezuelans, Neysmar Rondon, 18, from left to right, Raisamar Gutierrez, 23, Maria Albernoz, 24, Liz Petit, 26, and Maria Gonzales, 19, hold a representation of their country's national flag as they pose for a photo after their arrival at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, July 19, 2013. Thousands of young Roman Catholics from around the Americas are converging on Rio de Janeiro, taking days-long bus trips or expensive plane flights that were paid for by baking cookies and holding garage sales, running raffles and bingo tournaments and even begging for coins in public plazas. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

  • Young pilgrims laugh in front of screen featuring a drawing of Pope Francis at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, July 19, 2013. Thousands of young Roman Catholics from around the Americas are converging on Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, taking days-long bus trips or expensive plane flights that were paid for by baking cookies and holding garage sales, running raffles and bingo tournaments and even begging for coins in public plazas. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

    Young pilgrims laugh in front of screen featuring a drawing of Pope Francis at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, July 19, 2013. Thousands of young Roman Catholics from around the Americas are converging on Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, taking days-long bus trips or expensive plane flights that were paid for by baking cookies and holding garage sales, running raffles and bingo tournaments and even begging for coins in public plazas. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

  • A girl waves an Argentine flag inside the Buenos Aires' Cathedral before boarding a bus bound for Rio de Janeiro in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, July 19, 2013. Hundreds of Argentine faithful will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to attend World Youth Day events from July 22-28 with Pope Francis. Catholics left Buenos Aires cathedral Friday night in a caravan of buses on the 40-hour, 1,500-mile (2,500-kilometer) trip to Rio. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

    A girl waves an Argentine flag inside the Buenos Aires' Cathedral before boarding a bus bound for Rio de Janeiro in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, July 19, 2013. Hundreds of Argentine faithful will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to attend World Youth Day events from July 22-28 with Pope Francis. Catholics left Buenos Aires cathedral Friday night in a caravan of buses on the 40-hour, 1,500-mile (2,500-kilometer) trip to Rio. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

  • Nuns carrying Argentine and Vatican flags gather to board a bus bound for Rio de Janeiro, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, July 19, 2013. The nuns and hundreds of Argentine faithful will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to attend World Youth Day events from July 22-28 with Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
  • Venezuelans, Neysmar Rondon, 18, from left to right, Raisamar Gutierrez, 23, Maria Albernoz, 24, Liz Petit, 26, and Maria Gonzales, 19, hold a representation of their country's national flag as they pose for a photo after their arrival at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, July 19, 2013. Thousands of young Roman Catholics from around the Americas are converging on Rio de Janeiro, taking days-long bus trips or expensive plane flights that were paid for by baking cookies and holding garage sales, running raffles and bingo tournaments and even begging for coins in public plazas. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
  • Young pilgrims laugh in front of screen featuring a drawing of Pope Francis at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, July 19, 2013. Thousands of young Roman Catholics from around the Americas are converging on Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, taking days-long bus trips or expensive plane flights that were paid for by baking cookies and holding garage sales, running raffles and bingo tournaments and even begging for coins in public plazas. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
  • A girl waves an Argentine flag inside the Buenos Aires' Cathedral before boarding a bus bound for Rio de Janeiro in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, July 19, 2013. Hundreds of Argentine faithful will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to attend World Youth Day events from July 22-28 with Pope Francis. Catholics left Buenos Aires cathedral Friday night in a caravan of buses on the 40-hour, 1,500-mile (2,500-kilometer) trip to Rio. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

Thousands of young Roman Catholics from across the Americas are converging on Rio de Janeiro, taking dayslong bus trips or expensive plane flights that were paid for by baking cookies and holding garage sales, running raffles and bingo tournaments and even begging for coins in public plazas.

Some of the poorest traveled from “misery villages” in Argentina’s capital, thanks to donations from the Buenos Aires archdiocese. Their agenda at World Youth Day includes meeting with other disadvantaged youngsters in Manguinhos, Brazil, a favela Pope Francis plans to visit, and sharing stories about Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the subway-riding Argentine Jesuit they now affectionately call their “slum pope.”

Road trips can be fun, but many have been expressing more profound emotions, excited by the changes they see in the church since Francis was elected in March. His first months as pope have already renewed their faith, many say, by showing how church leaders can get closer to their people and relate to their real-world problems with humor and a common touch.

“Like anyone else, there have been times when I haven’t had this faith at 100 percent. Now I have more faith than ever, very high. I have my heart completely with God and no one can take me away from there,” said Valentina Godoy, who traveled from Santiago, Chile, and shared her feelings from Brazil on a video her local church group posted on YouTube.

Francis joked when he first emerged on the balcony over St. Peters Square that the cardinals had chosen a pope “from the end of the world.” But for many Catholics on this side of the Atlantic, he’s not only the first Latin American pope. With his history of community outreach, many younger Catholics are saying that he’s the first pope they can relate to in a more personal way.

“We were concerned after Benedict resigned, but when a Latin American pope emerged, so close to young people, it really changed the situation and our numbers grew. A little while ago we thought that there would be 5,000 Chileans, and now we see that 9,100 of us are going,” said Alonso Molina, the 21-year-old coordinator of a group visiting from Chile’s Vicarate of Youthful Hope.

Hundreds of young Catholics left Buenos Aires cathedral Friday night in a caravan of buses on the 40-hour, 1,500-mile trip to Rio. Many others left earlier from provinces around Argentina. About 9,500 signed up from the United States.

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