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1,100 UTAH YOUTHS TO SEE THE POPE IN DENVER

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In two and a half weeks, Fidel Castro will turn 67, a waning crescent moon will hang over the night sky, and Sophia Tuli of Salt Lake City will see Pope John Paul II.

While millions will acknowledge the first two events, relatively few will give notice to Tuli's once-in-a-lifetime encounter. Yet for Tuli, 14, the visit is a chance to meet the kind of person she's always wanted to be."I want to be a person people can look up to, that people can trust and believe in and have faith in . . . and know I'm honest and friendly," she said. "I think the pope is a wonderful man. There should be more people like him, more men that would dedicate their lives to God."

Tuli believes other youths share the same goals but that most have not been raised with religious beliefs.

"There's a lot of sin in the world today, and it's not every day we get to see the pope. If other youths could go, it would allow them the holier side of life where things are not always bad. I guess I would be hanging out with gang members (without the church)."

Tuli is one of nearly 1,100 Utah youths - and an estimated 150,000 youths from around the world - traveling to Denver to see the pope on World Youth Day Aug. 14 and 15. She and 14 other Tongan youths from her parish, St. Patrick's, have raised money for travel expenses by washing cars and holding youth dances.

At one dance, Tongans of different faiths contributed a total of $2,100 for the trip.

Ofa Johansson, youth leader, organized the dance for the Tongan community.

"I never thought we would come up with that much money," she said. "We know this is very important to (the youths), especially with all the gangs around and the environment they're in."

Johansson said the cost for the youths in the St. Patrick's parish - a mix of Tongans, Hispanics and Caucasians - is more than $4,000.

In addition to financial preparations, the youths at St. Patrick's have spiritually prepared for their journey with several prayer meetings over the past 10 months.

They and other Utah youths, referred to as pilgrims, will be honored Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with a special Mass delivered by Bishop William Weigand at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple.

In an open letter to the pilgrims, printed April 23 in the Intermountain Catholic, Weigand warns: "Do not let yourselves be led away by the false gods of this world, by all the `artificial paradises' . . . As the realities of sexual irresponsibility, violence and greed become more impressed upon you, there is a temptation to give up in despair or to escape from the responsibility of being a light to the world. . . .

"Jesus is inviting us to make bold choices under the powerful but gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit. . . . In August come on pilgrimage with me and many young Catholic Utahns. . . . Let us join with young men and women from around the world to listen to the proclamation of Christ. . . . "

Salt Lake City will serve as a hub city for more than 2,200 youth pilgrims traveling to Denver from western Canada, Washington, California, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada.