August 31st, 2010
10:23 AM ET

A Mormon with a memory: Sen. Hatch greenlights "Ground Zero Mosque"

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

In an interview on Monday with Fox13now in Salt Lake City, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said he would be “the first to stand up” for the rights of Muslims to build an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero. Well, he’s not exactly the first, but I’ll take it.

A few days ago I lamented the fact that so many prominent Mormons, including Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, had come out against the mosque.

As almost every Mormon knows, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been on the receiving end of more than their fair share of religious discrimination, including discrimination of the “don’t build it here” kind.

The Mormon founder Joseph Smith Jr. was killed by an anti-Mormon mob in 1844, and one reason LDS Church members made their westward trek to Utah was because they were hounded out of New York, Illinois, and Missouri by people who thought "Mormon American" was an oxymoron.

Roughly a decade ago a bitter controversy arose in Massachusetts concerning a proposed Mormon temple. The site is literally in the neighborhood of Romney’s family residence in Belmont, Massachusetts, and it was to serve a congregation that Romney himself led as Bishop from 1984 to 1986.

Local residents opposed just about everything about the temple, including its height and the customary Mormon spire with an angel on top. But the Mormons (and the Constitution) won and the temple was dedicated for use in 2000.

My point is that Anti-Mormonism is not just ancient history, which is why I have found the denunciation of the mosque by Reid and by Romney’s surrogates so troubling. Ditto for that supposed paragon of American values, and self-appointed pastor to the nation, and Mormon Glenn Beck, who has referred to the Park51 project as an "Allah tells me to blow up America mosque.”

But finally a leading Mormon politician has stepped up, much as Jewish leaders stepped up after the ADL committed seppuku on its own good name by coming out against the Islamic community center and mosque. So kudos to Orrin Hatch (who also called Islam a "great religion") for breaking ranks not only with his fellow Mormon leaders but also with his fellow Republicans, who have been leading the cynical anything-for-a-few-votes-in-November charge against the Park51 project, American values, and American law.

Speaking of American law, Hatch was a co-sponsor (with the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy) of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a federal statute passed in 2000 to outlaw religious bias in zoning precisely for cases such as the Mormon temple in Belmont and the Islamic community center at ground zero.

So he knows what he is talking about. Too bad so few of his fellow legislators (on either side of the aisle) do. The bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Church and state • Culture wars • Interfaith issues • Islam • Mormonism • Mosque • Muslim • New York • Politics

soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. AGA


    I urge everyone to visit this site to clear their misconceptions about Islam.

    Cheers! 🙂

    August 31, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  2. Ryan

    I have no problem with Muslims building a mosque where ever they wish. I think that building the Mosque at the location so close to Ground zero is in poor taste. It would be like Mormons building a temple at the site of the Mountain Meadows massacre. The actions of the people that committed these acts of terror and murder should not taint all people of those faiths.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  3. Bonnie Keeler

    Many of you are missing the point,.the objection has never been whether or not the muslims have a "right' to build the mosque. It's a matter of sensitivity for the feelings of a majority of Americans. This is no way to build bridges. Sensitivity and tolerance is a two way street. 9/1/1 is still a raw wound and building a mosque that close to ground zero is like pouring salt on that wound, especially with the muslims history of building mosques on churches or temples on conquered ground. Do you not think that maybe the muslims should show the kind of sensitivity to others that they expect to be shown to them?

    August 31, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
    • Jane

      Given that Christians also have a history of looting and murdering in the name of conquest as well as a convert or kill philosophy, I fail utterly to see what your point is.

      August 31, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Bonnie Keeler: I've never heard of a situation where we can say to someone, "You are not sensitive enough, so we are going to trample on your rights as a citizen."

      September 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • Tamra

      So let me get this right, Jane. You "utterly" fail to see her point because you think Muslims shouldn't be sensitive to the victims of 9/11 due to times in history when Christians were less than Christian? WHAT??? THAT is what makes no sense. Sensitivity is at the very heart of this issue, and she's absolutely right. If the Muslim community at large wants to help the healing process, they will NOT build that mosque/community center there, steps away from Ground Zero on a site where the very building that stood there was damaged by the attacks. That is why many Muslims are against this. They understand that extremist terrorists committed a mass murder on ground zero in the name of Allah, and those very terrorists would have considered that mosque as holy. This is just wrong. And the only argument I see anyone coming up with is bigotry. Pathetic.

      September 2, 2010 at 1:37 am |
  4. Urban

    Please don't compare Mormonism with Islam. Islam's mission is to convert the world by the sword if necessary. Their "prophet" is their example and they will not be able to rise above him. Their "prophet" was, later in life, a ruthless killer, a womanizer, a robber. That's the example they have. Christians' example is Jesus Christ, the sinless GodMan. Islam's example is a conceited sinner. It is astonishing that Muslims still believe that God revealed his divine message to an unrepentant sinner.

    August 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  5. D.R.

    1) Harry Reid; Mitt Romney; Glen Beck; Orrin Hatch are not "Mormon Leaders". They are political leaders or entertainers (using the later term loosley), who happen to be Mormon. They do not speak for the church or serve as the model for the church. They are individuals with their own beliefs and agendas. To be clear, as a Moromon, I do not look to them for guidance, example or advise. The press and those looking to use them as a proxy for all that is Mormon are doing an injustice to the church and its individual adherents.
    2) I do not know what the church's formal position is on this topic. I hope that it is that those sponsoring and looking forward to praying in the mosque may do so in peace and without interference. This is a no brainer. How can we as Mormon's, given our history and foundational beliefs, suggest anything to the contrary. As to whether the siting of the mosque is politically correct or even a good idea from a PR or community relations perspective is not the point. We Mormons and we Americans should embrace the idea that they have the right to build this mosque, even if it is not a good idea.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
  6. Dee

    I am pleased that there are differing views on behalf of the Mormon population-and contrasting prominent Mormon figures like-Harry Reid, Mitt Romney, Katherine Heigl, Stephenie Meyers, Julianne Hough, Brandon Flowers, and even Glenn Beck. It's not up to us to judge which ones are living Mormonism the best-maybe all of these prominent members of the church are all living the gospel sincerely and the best that they can. We are all different with varying capabilities, individualities, and purposes. I was disgusted to read about the Mormon bishop who was shot and how some commented that it was good. It seemed to have come from extremists on both the far left and far right. As for the prop. 8 issue-people need to realize that most Mormons, at least the ones I know-tend to treat GLBT persons rather well. I have even brought a few of my gay friends to church and they had a great time and were treated kindly and returned again and again. Many Mormons did not support Prop. 8 and that was their choice to do so. We should be true to our beliefs and selfs, but realize that the church can accommodate a vast array and spectrum of persons and each of those persons has something beautiful to add.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  7. James

    I do think that senator Hatch made the best decision in what he said. The prop 8 and San Francisco comment was interesting. We should remember that the church did come out in support of gay rights-all gay rights-except for marriage-I think they supported gay unions or partnerships though. Utah would not have the gay rights that it has now if the church had not done this. The church made the statement of support and the rights were implemented and supported very quickly after. Also, I have met so many people at Mormon church who are sincerely striving to improve themselves and help others-so, I do feel that Mormons do often get treated unjustly.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  8. Reality

    One more time, the "skinny" of it all:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" will quickly converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No profits, gold plates, koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired. Ditto for houses and classes of "worthless worship" aka tabernacles, mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues

    August 31, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  9. Dseigler2


    August 31, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  10. Scott Gerlach

    This is where we see who lives their politics and who lives their faith. If it's right to ask the Muslims not to build there, we should move the workers out right now, and just leave the open hole. It would stand as a great symbol of the refusal of all to heal their emotional wounds by leaving the physical wound in the city to lay open for all time. Christ taught us to forgive. He didn't tell us to do it only when easy or convenient. He commanded us to forgive all men.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  11. Tamra

    The difference is, the Massachusetts Temple was not being built on a site where someone who claimed to be of the LDS faith had committed a heinous mass murder. This is not an anti-muslim sentiment. It's ridiculous to continue to use that ad hominem attack. I am LDS and if people "claiming" to be LDS, even if not recognized by that church as such, had committed this kind of atrocity, there is no way I would support an LDS temple or church being built on the site of that atrocity. The LDS church did not build a place of worship where the Mountain Meadow Massacre happened, but rather a monument acknowledging the sadness of that situation. The only "anti" I am is, anti-add-to-the-awful-pain-and-loss of 9/11 victims, as we all should be.

    August 31, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Khalil

      Similarly, the building being built is meant to serve as a place of healing for the entire community, not just Muslims. It also includes a 9/11 memorial. Many Muslims were also the innocent victims of the attacks on that day. We all mourned, feared and lost that day. This center is meant as a place where people can come together, people of all faiths, and work towards tolerance and peace. Last point: the building is not being built on the site of the 9-11 tragedy. I think those who oppose the building owe it to themselves, and our nation, to research and understand exactly what it is they are opposing.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • Jennilee

      Three Points:
      1) Muslims were victims too, several died during 9/11
      2) Many families who lost loved ones durning 9/11 support the Mosque.
      3) The Mosque will not be on Ground Zero, and currently there are several other mosques just around the corner, should we tear those down for those that lost loved ones?

      August 31, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • Tamra

      I understand where it is in relation to Ground Zero. I also know Muslims were victims too. Many families who lost loved ones may support the Mosque, but there are many families who lost loved ones for whom it just adds more pain. There ARE several mosques around the corner; why the need of another. Why is being sensitive to the pain and suffering of those who've already lost and suffered so much being discounted in favor of tolerance toward something that, as pointed out above, there are already several of in the area. Much better to build a non-denominational center where healing can go on for everyone, taking into account the needs of all the burdened hearts.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Jennilee

      Why make a big deal of it if there are already several around?
      They came out stating that they hope to make this a community center that will open dialog and healing. They are reaching out- seems to me that many are rejecting that dialog.
      This will not just be a Mosque but a community center with a basketball court and other facilities four the youth and others to participate in. Everyone is welcome. What I am flabbergasted about is that since Ground Zero is "hallowed" ground, no one is raising a stink about the bars and strip joints just around the corner, I would think that would be more painful than having a community center for tax paying members of the community.

      August 31, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • Bethany Paxton

      Totally agree with you Jennilee about the strip joints.

      August 31, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
    • Jane

      If you weren't Anti-Muslim, you wouldn't blame all Muslims for the actions of a few Muslims. You ask that people differentiate between LDS Mormons and those who practice a form of polygamy that involves raping teenage girls and turning teenage boys out to live on their own, why can't you be bothered to extend that courtesy to others?

      August 31, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
    • Tamra

      @ Jane. . You don't know me at all, so let's stick with what we do know and stop with the ad hominem attacks, a rudimentary form of debate. This "Mosque" is 600 ft. away from Ground Zero. It is a slap in the face of the victims' families. It is going to cost millions and millions of dollars so money is not an issue. Who is funding this? That is not being disclosed. Why the secrecy? Lastly, MANY MANY Muslims are against this. Zuhdi, Jasser, founding member of The Center for Islamic Pluralism said " For us, a mosque was always a place to pray...—not a way to make an ostentatious architectural statement. Ground Zero shouldn't be about promoting Islam. It's the place where war was declared on us as Americans." Now to the victims' families; how are they feeling? Here's a quote from Michael Burke, brother to a victim in 9/11, "Freedom of religion or expression and private property rights are not the issues.... Decency is; right and wrong is... [M]any believe that their "rights" supersede all other considerations, like what is respectful, considerate, and decent. A mosque ... steps from Ground Zero in a building damaged in the attacks is ... astoundingly insensitive". Drop the religious bigotry attack. . .it's just not a viable argument because it's not what is at the heart of this debate. There are a number of good reasons for people to be against this mosque in this place, which is why the majority of Americans of all political persuasions are.

      September 2, 2010 at 1:27 am |
  12. Danny Boy

    Most Mormons I have encountered have been very nice...I can say the same about Muslims. I grew up southern baptist (including private schools) and I can't say the same about most Christians.

    August 31, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • MormonTeen

      Well, all I would like to say is that, my church has never been about violence. I am persecuted enough in school and am the only LDS in my entire school. I have suffered popularity, lost friendships and taunting. The last thing I do want to do is persecute another.

      September 20, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
  13. Jon

    I'm a Mormon, and I'm very interested in the history of my church. The author of this piece hits the nail on the head. We were driven from this country. When we arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, it was part of Mexico. The fact that Mormons aren't trying to claim retribution as other minority groups in this country do is another matter. The thing I focus on, and a big point that the author missed, is that Mormons never committed a terrorist act against the United States. The closest similarity would be building a temple at the mountain meadow massacre site in Utah. Mormons are not terrorists. It may be true that 99% of Muslims are not terrorists either. Some extremist Muslims are terrorists, and just as a temple on the mountain meadow massacre site would be classless for the Mormon church, a mosque near the 9/11 site lacks class as well. Why are we ignoring the will of the majority? Why do we allow people to use the extent of the Constitution against the U.S.?

    August 31, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  14. elenore

    Most Christians I know in the U.S. are basically Red Letter Christians.Most don't put much into the Old Testament and taking it with a grain of salt.Why? It's easy it's hard for most American Christians to accept a testament coming from a Racist Sexist Violent Pervert,Which both Joseph Smith and Muhammad were.If you asked what they think about Buddhist,most would consider it a peaceful Religion.Sorry but the it will always come back to who these people were in their own life and whether they practiced what they preached.Most of society will never fully be comfortable with either.

    August 31, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  15. Bethany Paxton

    I am LDS and as soon as I heard about the controversy with the Mosque I knew who I would support. Just as the article says, we Latter-Day Saints have had our fair share of problems when it comes to building church buildings and Temples. We should use these experiences to show sympathy to others who face similar situations. In fact the 11th Article of Faith says "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may". I was shocked to hear that so many people of the LDS faith were opposed to the building site. We know perfectly well that most of the Islamic community was not part of the terrorist attacks. I'll even go so far as to bring up the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Yes, it happened. No, it was not sanctioned by the church. This does not make the whole Church bad, nor does 9/11 make all those who worship Islam bad.

    August 31, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • Kelli

      No one could have said it better, Bethany!

      August 31, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • Stephen Prothero

      Thanks, Bethany. I heard from a lot of LDS members after my last blog post on Mormons and the so-called "mosque," and many of them mentioned this 11th article of faith. Steve

      August 31, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
    • J

      The new Muslim Community Center is being funded by the second largest share holder of Fox News. And yet, Fox is spreading all of this hate and lies about the community center.


      September 3, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • Kate


      That's not what the article says.

      All the article points out is that Prince al-Waleed has helped fund projects Imam Rauf has been involved with. It does not say that Prince al-Waleed is funding Park51 in any way.

      You're doing pretty much the same thing spreading bad information – at least unsupported by the article you introduced. It might well be that Prince al-Waleed will help fund Park51, but right now that's not been said, and the article only tries to insinuate it.

      That's the sort of leap of logical insinuation that's helped politicians exploit the deaths of nearly 3,000 people to turn them into votes.

      Just sayin'

      September 3, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  16. Jed Merrill

    " to be a bad representation of any faith, he is quick to judge, and well comes across as a little arrogant. Not only that but his love of money and the lack of humility totally goes against everything Christ taught" -- your statement sounds like every Mormon I have ever known or met.

    August 31, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
    • Jon

      Obviously you haven't met or known many Mormons!

      August 31, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • Berto Chavez

      I agree with Jon. There certainly are some who fit those attributes, but in my experience it is a much lower percentage than that of the general population. Much, much lower.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jon

      Yes. I've been a member my whole life, and I've met some real creeps who are Mormons. However, the majority of Mormons I know are actually great people who make a positive contribution to their communities and society as a whole. In every group your going to have your bad eggs...and obviously you can't pass judgement on the entire group due to a couple of bad people.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • Jennilee

      Mr. Merrill, I stated that Beck was a bad respresentation of any faith- you used my words to bash others. So not cool. It sucks that you've met some bad apples, but than again your current words or attitued are not displaying you in a gracious manner either.

      August 31, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  17. Jed Merrill

    Nice publicity stunt for Hatch. The LDS church was catching heat for their stand, and they have to have someone come out in favor. As for the LDS Church being on receiving end, tell that to the people Mormons have murdered, harassed and abused their kids.

    Mormons have nothing to complain about until they stop abusing people

    August 31, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • Scott Gerlach

      What stand would that be? There have been no official statements from the Church that I'm aware of regarding the building of the mosque. Please cite a reference, or refrain from implying that the Church has condemned this. Romney and Beck have nothing to do with Church leadership.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • Scott Gerlach

      I've known thousands of Mormons over my lifetime, none of whom have abused, murdered, or harassed anyone. Please avoid sweeping generalizations, lest you become as narrow-minded as those you seek to accuse.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  18. Laura Manske

    Watch. Listen. Think... Check out this powerful song/video about the Ground Zero "mosque" controversy:

    HEY AMERICAN on YouTube

    by NYC songwriter David Ippolito – a voice for PEACE


    Then share with your family and friends.

    August 31, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  19. Sarah

    I completely agree. I have been shocked at how many of my Mormon friends are loudly against this Mosque. Several after being engaged in a disucssion, where I share similar views expressed in this article, realize the double standard. We can't expect tolerance for our temples, chapels and standing up for our beliefs, yet in the same breath condemn a similarly ostracized religion's mosque. Thank you, Sen. Hatch for saying what so many of us believe. As well as you, Stephen and Jennilee. Same religion or not, right is right and wrong is wrong.

    August 31, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • Jon

      I don't think it is a double standard at all. To be a double standard, Mormons would have had to have committed some heinous terrorist act against the U.S. If Mormons tried to build a temple near a sight of some terrorist act they committed against the U.S., then any Mormons that spoke against the mosque would be using a double standard.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • jedipunk

      I wasn't aware that any american-muslims have commited terrorist acts against the US.

      Now, we have seen some mormons make the news in the last few years, but mormons will proclaim those guys are not "real" mormons. With that in mind, the park51 muslims are sufi not al-qaeda.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • Jennilee

      I think what Sarah is trying to point out is that even to this day Mormons are told they belong to a cult, that there is something wrong with their faith; they being victims of ignorance should side with the Muslims in defending their right to practice their faith. Mormons have met with social injustice by the more prescribed ideals of Christianity, their prophet was murdered and they were run out of town, now to show that same intolerance would seriously be a lack of good judgment. Jon, from your statement you are lumping all Muslims in with the radicals that attacked on 9/11, that would be like Mr. Merrill stating that all Mormons advocate marring underage girls to older men who already have several wives. Oh- yeah I've seen them, lived in Southern Utah for four years.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • Jon

      I would point out that there is a clear distinction between Mormons and non-mormons that is often blurred by the media. In contrast al-qaeda and sufi both fall under the broad category of "Muslim." We have seen non-mormon break-off groups in the news that practice polygamy. No members of the LDS church practice polygamy. 99% of Muslims are very peaceful and do not wage jihad, however a small percentage of Muslims do wage jihad. There is a difference, although it may be very obscure to some.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Eric

      As to double standards: Actually, Jon, you might look into how many LDS chapels are close to the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. And the comparison is a good one - just as we shouldn't hold the LDS church as a whole responsible for the heinous acts of a bunch of people who acted contrary to the values that their religion teaches, neither should we hold all Muslims responsible for the atrocity committed by a bunch of renegades in the name of Allah.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • Sarah

      Jon: As much as I have read, I have not found ties or connections to Al Qaeda and Sufi with this Imam and Mosque. If there isn't, they have every right to build where they can. And to support any government or protesters actions against building this mosque is a slippery slope. After reading comments on CNN's coverage of the Mormon Bishop murdered over the weekend, and how many have commented "he deserved it, just because he's Mormon, and supported Prop 8" makes me believe that if the Church wanted to build a temple/chapel in downtown San Fransisco, where the gay movement began, the citizens there would find it just as appauling as Muslims building near ground zero. And if Mormons support the protest of the Mosque, we can't turn around and defend our religious rights of building in San Fransisco, for example.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Brian

      Comparisons to Mountain Meadows Massacre are inevitable, but honestly, if the last heinous act carried out in the name of Islam was over 150 years ago, I don't think the mosque would be an issue.

      August 31, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
    • J

      Replying to Jon's comment "Jon

      I don't think it is a double standard at all. To be a double standard, Mormons would have had to have committed some heinous terrorist act against the U.S. If Mormons tried to build a temple near a sight of some terrorist act they committed against the U.S., then any Mormons that spoke against the mosque would be using a double standard."

      Mormons have committed heinous acts of terrorism in the past. It's called the Mountain Meadow Massacre.

      Mormons did commit an act of heinous crime. It's called the Mountain Meadow Massacre.

      September 3, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  20. Jennilee

    Having grown up LDS and having lived in Utah for six years, it's nice to see someone even if it is Hatch come out and actually act Christ-like. I've long since left the church, but I still feel that even if I don't agree with everything they teach on Sunday, the Church has good core values, just like Islam or any other faith that talks about taking care of thier fellow man no matter the differences, that is what Christ would have wanted. I belive Beck to be a bad representation of any faith, he is quick to judge, and well comes across as a little arrogant. Not only that but his love of money and the lack of humility totally goes againest everything Christ taught. I wish people would stop looking at what makes us different but what unites as human, that we all breath, we all feel sadness, we all want to be loved, and understood. It shouldn't be about "Us" vs "Them', that only leads to anger and hatred. Its sad to think that we let our fear guide us, I thought if you had complete faith in Christ and Heavenly Father than you really don't have anything to worry about, because this life is short but our eternity is forever. Or did I miss something?

    August 31, 2010 at 10:57 am |
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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.