CNN examines the tumultuous early years of Christianity in a special narrated by Liam Neeson. Watch “After Jesus: The First Christians,” Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) – She walked into the Roman arena where the wild beasts awaited her. She trembled not from fear but from joy.
Her name was Vibia Perpetua. She was just 22, a young mother singing hymns as the crowd jeered and a lion, leopard and wild cow encircled her.
One of the beasts attacked, hurling her to the ground. She covered an exposed thigh with her bloody robe to preserve her modesty and groped in the dust for her hair pin so she could fix her disheveled hair.
And when a Roman executioner approached Perpetua with a sword, her last words before collapsing were aimed at her Christian companions: “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another and do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block to you.”
Millions of Christians worldwide will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Easter Sunday. But the story of how the church rose to prominence after Jesus’ death is being turned upside down.
By Laura Smith-Spark and Livia Borghese, CNN
(CNN) - What may be the most famous religious relic of them all, the Turin Shroud, will make a rare appearance on Easter Saturday - on Italians' TV screens.
One of Benedict XVI's last acts as pope, according to Vatican Radio, was to authorize the broadcast of video of the shroud from Turin Cathedral, where the mysterious Christian relic is kept, out of sight, in a bulletproof, climate-controlled glass case.
According to Vatican Radio, only once before have images of the centuries-old linen cloth been broadcast. That was in 1973, at the request of then-Pope Paul VI.
Some Christians believe the shroud, which appears to bear the imprint of a man's body, to be Jesus Christ's burial cloth. The body appears to have wounds that match those the Bible describes as having been suffered by Jesus on the cross.
Read the full story here
By Sarah Pulliam Bailey, For CNN
Wheaton, Illinois (CNN)– Combing through prayer requests in a Wheaton College chapel in 2010, then-junior Benjamin Matthews decided to do something “absurdly unsafe.”
He posted a letter on a public forum bulletin board near students' post office boxes. In the letter, he came out as gay and encouraged fellow gay Christian students - some of whom had anonymously expressed suicidal plans in a pile of the prayer requests - to contact him if they needed help.
In a student body of 2,400 undergraduates in the suburbs of Chicago, at what is sometimes called the Harvard of evangelical schools, Matthews said that 15 male students came out to him. Other students seemed somewhat ambivalent about his coming out, he said.
No one told him he was wrong or needed to change, Matthews said some students were obviously uncomfortable with someone who would come out as gay and remain a Christian.
“I don’t think most Wheaton students knew what to do because they've been given ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ rhetoric, but they don't know how that plays out in real life,” said Matthews, who graduated in 2011. “They would mostly just listen, nod and say, ‘Yeah man, that’s hard.’”
By Jake Tapper, CNN
Televangelist Joel Osteen is a consultant on the History Channel's series, "The Bible," which has become a runaway success. More than 10 million people watched last week's episode, and nearly 14 million watched the debut. Osteen's friend Mark Burnett produces the show.
Osteen is not surprised by the success.
"There are a lot of people of faith still in our country and when somebody takes a step of faith like Mark and [co-executive producer Roma Downey] did, people want to get behind it and see good quality, you know, production of something that's ... dear to all of our hearts, and that is the scripture and the bible," said Osteen.
Osteen also dismissed the controversy surrounding the actor cast as Satan bearing a resemblance in some people's minds to President Obama.
"I felt like it was nonsense," says Osteen. "People can draw funny conclusions."
By Nathan Berrong, CNN
As the Easter Season approaches, I will be making a conscious effort to eat some great food and seek out some great beers. I’ve listed a few of those beers below, specifically, ones that have some kind of religious symbolism or background. Not to worry though, if religion isn’t your thing and Easter means a bunny hiding colored eggs, I’ve got you covered too.
Gouden Carolus Easter – The Gouden Carolus brewery traces its roots back to 15th century Belgium when Christian women were responsible for brewing beer and lived in communal settings known as Beguines. This beer (pictured), released once a year around Easter, is deep red in color and tastes of plums and licorice.
Sierra Nevada Ovila Abbey Saison – Sierra Nevada has collaborated with local monks on their Ovila series in an effort to create Trappist-style ales with American brewing techniques. The Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, California, plays an integral role in each of the Ovila beers. This particular one, the Abbey Saison, contains mandarin oranges that were grown and handpicked by some of the monks.
(CNN)–Pope Francis washes prisoners' feet in Easter ritual. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.
By Pauline Kim, CNN
(CNN) – The letter is signed "cordially" but students who received the instruction to stop handing out condoms on campus say they were taken aback by demands they feel could go as far as threatening their rights.
Various dorm rooms at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, have a "Safe Site" symbol on their door. That signifies that inside are male and female condoms, personal lubricant and safer sex information, according to BC Students for Sexual Health. "If you are in need of condoms, you may knock (on) one of these doors and just ask!" the group's website says.
Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH, told CNN that the college has always been aware of the group's activities. "We've had a positive and open relationship with the administration up to this point," she said.
But earlier this month, college administrators sent letters to students whose dorm room doors have the logo saying that distributing condoms on campus "is not in concert with the mission of Boston College as a Catholic and Jesuit university."
Editor’s note: Brian Spadora lives and writes in New Jersey, where he attends Seton Hall University School of Law. Follow him on Twitter at @brianspadora.
By Brian Spadora, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Like many Catholics my age, I am Catholic in name only. I went to Mass every week as a kid and attended a Jesuit high school and college. My wife and I married in a Catholic church, and both of our children were baptized. But I haven’t been a churchgoer since I became too old for my mother to coerce me into a pew.
I haven’t even made the effort to attend Mass twice a year like “Christmas and Easter Catholics.” For my entire adult life, my Catholic faith has been a sort of cultural vestige, like the Italian, Irish and Slovak ethnic heritage from which I’m generations removed.
Despite this, this month I decided I am returning to the church. This turn of events is not quite as miraculous as the multiplication of loaves and fishes, but it’s pretty surprising. It began, innocently enough, with a half-serious promise to my devout Catholic mother.
By Sherisse Pham, CNN
(CNN)–His children cry out for him. His wife wonders about his “survival battle.”
Such is the struggle of the family of an American pastor recently sentenced in Iran to eight years in prison for his Christian beliefs.
The couple's two children "miss him terribly. They cry, they ask for him," wife Naghmeh Abedini says. "They're struggling every day."
Her husband Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen of Iranian birth, was arrested and charged in Iran last June during a visit. Abedini, 32, converted to Christianity from Islam and then became a pastor, living in Boise, Idaho. He has reportedly been detained in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison since late September. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Muslim who converts to another faith can face the death penalty.
"They've charged him with Christian gatherings, and they're saying it is a threat to the national security," Naghmeh Abedini said.
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) — In ancient times, when roads were bad and footwear was worse, the washing of a guest's feet was a required sign of hospitality. Today when someone comes to your home, you’re more likely to offer to take their coat and bring them a beverage rather then have the help fetch a basin to refresh their worn feet.
The gesture of a servant's washing a newly arrived guest’s feet is sprinkled throughout the Jewish and Christian scriptures. That the characters in question were respectable, hospitable, and well off would have been culturally recognizable to earlier readers. In the Christian tradition, one story of feet washing entirely changed the paradigm.
In the Biblical accounts of the Easter story, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a donkey to adoring crowds. Just a few days later he gathers his 12 disciples for what would be their Last Supper before he was crucified.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.