CNN's Ben Wedeman gloats over what President Barack Obama likely won't get a chance to see on his visit to the Vatican on Thursday. Take a look inside the Sistine Chapel - and gaze up at its famous ceiling.
Programing Note: Don't miss Wolf Blitzer Reports: Popes and Presidents on Easter Sunday, April 20 at 2 p.m. ET. The 30-minute special explores the long and sometimes troubled history between the White House and the Vatican.
By Wolf Blitzer and Sean Kennedy, CNN
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(CNN) - President Barack Obama will meet with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican, opening a new chapter in the centuries-long relationships between the United States and the Holy See.
While Obama has praised Francis’ focus on the poor, popes and American presidents haven’t always seen eye to eye.
With that in mind, here are five surprising encounters between the Commander in Chief and the Successor to St. Peter.
1. George Washington banned the burning of papal effigies
On the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ Day, when a Catholic plot to assassinate the Protestant King of England was disrupted, American soldiers would often mark the day by torching a straw pope.
But just five months after George Washington took command of the Continental Congress’ army in 1775, he issued an order prohibiting the violent expression of anti-Catholic bigotry.
(CNN) President Obama will meet with Pope Francis on March 27, the White House announced on Tuesday.
The POTUS/Pope summit is already generating lots of buzz, and Belief Blog co-editor Daniel Burke spoke to CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Tuesday the meeting's likely agenda.
MORE ON CNN: Obama to visit Pope Francis in March
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – The son of a Florida megachurch pastor who is close to President Barack Obama has died, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to local police.
Isaac Hunter, 36, died Tuesday, according to Northland and Summit churches, two Orlando-area congregations with deep ties to his family.
Altamonte Springs Police Department spokesman Robert C. Pelton said officers responded to a call to check on the well-being of Hunter at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday. They found him dead, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Pelton said. The investigation is ongoing, and no foul play is suspected, he added.
Hunter is the son of Joel Hunter, an evangelical who has been a spiritual adviser to Obama since his 2008 presidential campaign. The president and the pastor speak nearly once a week, and Joel Hunter was an adviser to the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Isaac Hunter and his wife, Rhonda, were going through a divorce, according to Florida court records. Hunter resigned as senior pastor of Summit Church in 2012 after acknowledging a three-year affair with a member of the church staff.
By Dan Merica and Eric Marrapodi, CNN
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Washington (CNN) - When the State Department announced it was moving its Vatican embassy to a compound shared with the U.S. Embassy in Italy, some former ambassadors and conservative American Catholics were outraged.
Former ambassadors to the Holy See said moving that embassy would diminish the stature of the mission and conservative Catholic activists seized on the issue.
Addressing the growing controversy in Rome, the State Department arranged a briefing for reporters on Monday with an unnamed senior official who said the purpose for the move was to save money and increase security.
A spokesman for the Vatican said the move was well within the Holy See's requirements for embassies and that relations with the United States are far from strained.
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) – The Rev. Timothy McDonald gripped the pulpit with both hands, locked eyes with the shouting worshippers, and decided to speak the unspeakable.
The bespectacled Baptist minister was not confessing to a scandalous love affair or the theft of church funds. He brought up another taboo: the millions of poor Americans who won’t get health insurance beginning in January because their states refused to accept Obamacare.
McDonald cited a New Testament passage in which Jesus gathered the 5,000 and fed them with five loaves and two fishes. Members of his congregation bolted to their feet and yelled, “C’mon preacher” and “Yessir” as his voice rose in righteous anger.
“What I like about our God is that he doesn’t throw people away,” McDonald told First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta during a recent Sunday service. “There will be health care for every American. Don’t you worry when they try to cast you aside. Just say I’m a leftover for God and leftovers just taste better the next day!”
Opinion by Joshua DuBois, Special to CNN
Washington (CNN) - One thing is for sure: I didn't feel ready to send morning devotionals to the next President of the United States.
I was a young staffer, 25 years old, on Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. I had known Obama for a few years, and at the time worked as faith outreach director for his campaign.
In addition to my professional role reaching out to the faith community, I also personally prayed for Obama by myself each day. I had been an associate pastor at a small Pentecostal church in Boston, and my Christian faith was, and is, the guiding force of my life.
But I wasn't some famous mega-church pastor or internationally known cleric. I went to public policy school, not seminary, and although I loved Scripture and history and could write a bit, I was still learning more about Jesus every day.
But one day I felt a tug at my spirit, a sense that this young candidate needed some support. Not Secret Service protection or policy advice or political strategy – he had plenty of that. I thought he needed some folks who were caring for his spirit, his soul.
By Dan Merica and Kevin Bohn, CNN
(CNN) - The Obama administration finalized rules on Friday that allow religiously affiliated organizations to opt out of a federal mandate requiring that they provide employees with insurance coverage for birth control.
The mandates give women at nonprofit, religious-based organizations, like certain hospitals and universities, the ability to receive contraception through separate health policies at no charge.
The rules, which were first proposed in February and then open for comment through April, have undergone only minor changes.
Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, deputy director for policy and regulations at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the rules were "very similar" to the administration's original proposal.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) – Franklin Graham, one of the country's most prominent evangelicals, says the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service included two of his ministries.
"I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us," Graham wrote in a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama. The evangelical leader is the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham.
Graham said the IRS contacted the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a North Carolina-based ministry, after it ran newspaper ads in that state in April encouraging support for an amendment against same-sex marriage. The group also bought newspaper ads in November encouraging Christians to vote for candidates who oppose same-sex marriage, support Israel and "base their decisions on biblical principles."
Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
At the interfaith prayer service held in today for the victims of the Boston marathon bombing (including Lu Lingzi, a graduate student at Boston University, where I teach), President Barack Obama was once again called upon to play the pastor-in-chief at a moment of national tragedy.
In his speech, Obama did a lot of cheering for the home town, praising Boston as “the perfect state of grace.” He recalled his time as a law student at Harvard. He cheered on the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots, and the Bruins. And he repeatedly referred to Bostonians as a gritty people who would not give in to terrorism in the 21st century any more than they bowed to the British in the 18th.
As I listened to the speech, however, I couldn't help hearing echoes of President Ronald Reagan.
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.