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June 24th, 2011
02:11 PM ET

Explain it to me: Mormonism

With two Mormons running for the Republican presidential nomination and a play riffing on the religion tearing up Broadway, the country appears to be having a Mormon moment.

Here are 10 facts about Mormonism. What other questions do you have about the faith?

1. The official name of the Mormon church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2. Mormons consider themselves Christian but their beliefs and practices differ from traditional Christianity in key ways, including belief in sacred texts outside the Bible and practices like posthumous proxy baptism and wearing special undergarments.

3. There are about 14 million Mormons today, with more than half living outside the United States.

4.  The Mormon religion was founded in upstate New York in 1830, when Joseph Smith published a translation of writings he said he found and translated from Egyptian-style hieroglyphics into English.  That's the Book of Mormon, which believers say consists of writings produced by ancient American civilizations.

5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has outlawed polygamy since 1890.

6. Early Mormons faced intense persecution, so church headquarters relocated from New York to Missouri to Illinois in rapid succession. Joseph Smith was killed by a mob in Illinois. His successor, Brigham Young, led early Mormons to the Great Salt Lake in what's now Utah, where church headquarters remains.

7. Mormon men are expected to perform two years of missionary work beginning when they're 19 years old. Women can also do missionary work when they turn 21, but there is less pressure to do so.

8. Famous Mormons include J.W. Marriott, founder of the hotel chain, Glenn Beck and Gladys Knight, a convert.

9. Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney represent different generations of Mormonism that have related pretty differently to American culture.

10. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is running some major ad campaigns to take advantage of burgeoning interest in the religion.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Mormonism

soundoff (3,741 Responses)
  1. Pope on a Rope

    Mormonism is a cult. Then again, pretty much all religions are. But mormonism is one of the goofier ones out there.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  2. Steve B.

    I have to say that I am deeply offended by this article. It minces words, has falsehoods and generally casts a poor light on a group of people who have done nothing wrong. Why are people so opposed to mormonism when so much good has come from it? Google, LDS church relief aid, I dare you.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Google Mountain Meadows Massacre. I dare you.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Nichole

      Is that a dare or a double dare?

      June 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      good and bad come from all religions. Mormonism is no different.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      Don't bring out Mark Summers.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • JoyRide

      Why are you on a computer? Mormons are not suppose to use electricity...

      June 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Tom

      Really? I did not think so.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Brian E.

      JoyRide, that is so funny, not! Where do you come from anyway? Without electricity, a late meber of the LDS church would have not been able to invent the television that you all enjoy!!

      June 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Steve B.

      Why don't you google Haun's Mill Massacre, or mormon persecution for that matter.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Tom

      Steve B., I am not a Mormon, though I also don't care one bit if anyone wants to be one. BUT, don't be so surprised that the comments hear show that some people don't like them. The fact is, that no matter what religion one is there are one or more other religions that don't like you. That is true for all religions. Have you ever heard any intense criticism made against Catholics, Jews, Muslims, non-Mormon Christians, etc? That's just the way life on earth is.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • R Burns

      LDS Church relief aid? Where were they when my health failed and I needed help with dental work, food and electricity? I have a list of the organizations involved in contributing to the community aid programs that assisted. The LDS church is not among them. As a previous member of that organization I once needed food for my family, and getting it was like going through 10 years of old tax records in an audit! This is one area the LDS church, for all of its wealth, could do with a little reorganizing and join the human race.

      June 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  3. Scott

    Read the book Mormonism 101 by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson to get the real story of Mormonism. It is a sick twisted cult that tries to push itself off as being Christian.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Most religions are cults.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Rich

      Sure that is like going Judas to get the real story on Jesus Christ.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Trevor Rowe

      What not just read the Book of Mormon and figure it out for yourself?

      June 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Artist

      Rich

      Sure that is like going Judas to get the real story on Jesus Christ.

      ------
      That would be more accurate than the bible. You got to love the intelligence of some.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  4. mightyfudge

    Churches should not be allowed to advertize unless the pay taxes.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Churches should pay taxes, except on charity works that give back to the community.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  5. Walter

    Mormons are neither cultists or paragons of goodness. They are people and as such come in a wide variety of types. I worked with two young women who claimed the LDS faith in a child welfare position. One had converted into the faith after a troubled childhood. She found something in it that stabilized her life and made her very good at her job. I don't know if it was her faith or something else but the end results were good for her and others. The other one was born into the faith and was a condescending zealot. She was eventually terminated for implying to one of the parents that she worked with that if she converted that she would not have child removed for abuse.

    It is silly to assume all members of group X are the same.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  6. Pam W

    This picture of polygamists is incredibly irresponsible and misleading journalism. These are NOT members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • spr

      they are "orthodox" mormons... they practice the original religion as its founder Joe Smith intended it to be practiced which included polygomy.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Trevor Rowe

      I thought the same thing. It just feeds into the misconception.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • sstude

      Agreed!!!

      June 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Segev Stormlord

      Yeah, actually, the "fundamentalist" mormon groups hark to Joseph Smith's teachings that they cherry pick to build the weird little polygamist compounds that make the news.

      Joseph Smith preached that he was a prophet chosen by God. He also preached that God would not let His priesthood be removed from the earth again. Thus, when Joseph died, there HAD to be a new prophet called by God. That prophet was Brigham Young, and the story surrounding how this was realized is one I don't feel qualified to relate, but that you can probably find if you go looking. In a nutshell, though, he was clearly called by God as His next prophet, and it was the majority of the mormon body who followed him to Salt Lake Valley. The LDS church we have today is that one, with an unbroken line of prophets going back to Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.

      Obviously, if you don't believe Smith was a prophet, or don't believe Young was, you will think these are just choices of men, and not God's work preserving His church, but I hope you can at least see how the logical inheritance of the LDS mantle follows if one believes that God called Smith to be His Prophet in the first place.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  7. Susan

    Joseph Smith was visited by angels who brought him the Book of Morman on gold tablets, when he had finished writing it down, they came and took the tablets back....
    Mormans believe that the lost tribe of Israel settled South America.....the "bad" ones killed off the good ones and in punishment their skin was darkened.....

    June 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • kormallain

      Mushrooms and a pen my friend, that is all.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  8. Andrew

    I am a Mormon. I am a PhD candidate in Medical Physics. I am happily married to my wife of 8 years. I have 4 beautiful children. I love music (especially classical vocal performance), outdoor activities (white-water sports, hiking, back country camping,...), reading, and teaching my children to be like Christ by being my best self. I am just trying to be the best person that I can be by living an honest, moral, virtuous lifestyle. Am I perfect? By all means, NO! But, I try in all I do and say, to live the gospel more each day. That's all. I teach my children to respect other cultures, races, religions, and to be contributing and upstanding citizens of this great country.

    I am a typical Mormon: a normal person.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • someoneelse

      Education is not mutually inclusive of intelligence. Education is a business nowadays. You are a good example of this. In the end, you might even be intelligent and religious, but you will never be smart.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • mightyfudge

      You claim to be intelligent, yet you've fallen for one of the dumbest con scams in history. Seems to be a major disconnect in your argument.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Shelley H

      Well said Andrew. I too, am LDS, and proud of it!! I'm not perfect either, but I'm not a quitter....and by crickey....when you have a family, and the gospel....that's all that matters!

      June 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • sstude

      Wow, those responses to your comment are mean. My first experience with Mormons was when I moved west a couple of years ago (I am in my 30s). I have found Mormons to be hard working, honest, non-judgmental, and very nice people. Importantly, they don't proselytize, they respect other religions. Unlike the born-agains – sorry, had to get that dig in there (yes, I know I am generalizing, but this is my experience).

      June 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  9. Fred

    For those who think that Mormonism is a cult should look up the definition.... you could also say that Christianity is a cult

    June 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      From the deist viewpoint, they are both cults.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • kormallain

      More then just Deists think that.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  10. Marty in MA

    All religions seem to believe in some invisible wizard that lives in the sky and changes things on Earth according to your wishes and prayers. Nonsense.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      By wizard I think you mean God. Also Jesus who is the son of God is the only man to defy death out of all other religion's gods. He is not the brother of Lucifer (satan). He is the only begotten son.

      Your logic is flawed. Can you see the wind? How do you know it exists. You may say because you feel it. How do Christians know that Jesus Christ and God exist because they see His works being done.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • kormallain

      No sir, your logic is flawed. I can See the wind. Throw some dust in the air. Jesus was a man. Son of a carpenter named Joseph. He lived in a time of opression and sought after equality. He might have been called a revolutionary, by todays standard, but no son of god.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Segev Stormlord

      One of my greatest struggles in my faith is that I do not well perceive God's promptings in answer to my prayers. Nevertheless, just as you can throw dust into the air to see the wind blow it around, I can pray to God, and I have seen the results of those prayers in actions and events that have unfolded positively post-prayer which were previously unfolding neutral-to-negatively.

      And before you try to claim that I'm ascribing causality to things not present, I can say the same of you and your dust in the air. I won't, because I am a scientist as well as a christian and a mormon, and thus I do believe in the value of experimentation. I just try to avoid the confirmation bias of assuming that anything that disproves my thesis is obviously the fault of the experimenter.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  11. Someone Somewhere

    CULT. CULT. CULT. (other than that it's fine).

    June 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Rich

      Please state four generally accepted standards by which Mormonism can be considered a cult.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • kormallain

      Same as any other religion. The worship of a ficticious beeings.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  12. Nick

    I've got an ad campaign for the Mormons. Mormonism, a step above Scientology.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  13. capnmike

    Mormonism is just another scam, like all religions. Religion is a human invention..."god" does not exist. We need to throw all religion on the trash heap where it belongs and stop being victims of this enormous hoax.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      Oh man.....you were so close to being 100% correct. I'm sorry but God does exist. He wants to have a relationship with you, not a religion for you.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • kormallain

      Yap, he lives in a magical fairyland up in the sky, with The Care Bears and My Little Ponies.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Bil

      "The trash heap of history?" How telling. That was the phrase coined by Leon Trotsky in defense of Communism. Now I know everything I need to know about you. You are a fool.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  14. brad

    Of course the reason this article has appeared is because of Mit Romney's candidacy for president. When the current office holder was running, there was concern that he might be Muslim. Perhaps we should elect an atheist. At inauguration, he can place his hand over thin air, or Origin of Species. Then his word will be guaranteed by.....uh.......by......well, there's......no. Hey, somebody help me with this.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • GetReal

      Jeez, you really think God has helped any president? Oh that's right God is American.....

      June 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Segev Stormlord

      While I DO believe that God had a hand in founding a nation which adheres more closely to His precepts of personal responsibility and freedom to choose (after all, He is omnipotent, and yet permits us to make choices for ourselves with at MOST punishment afterwards; He never COMPELS us in the mind-control sense, as an omnipotent being doubtless could), I see nothing inherent to God "not being (exclusively an) American" God that would mean He couldn't help Presidents who call upon Him for aid. If He truly is our Heavenly Father, and loves all mankind, surely He would help the leaders of nations that have His children in them, if those leaders pursue righteous ends?

      This isn't even a value judgment that all Presidents have always been righteous. Far from it. I won't even say when they have or have not. But if God is truly, as the New Testament says, a God of love for His children (all of mankind), why WOULDN'T he help the leaders of His people? I'm sure He helps leaders of other nations, too, when they pursue righteousness on behalf of their people.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  15. someoneelse

    Religion, not matter what good it does, is inherently evil. All of it, again, even the good it does as it causes the good in ways that are false (i.e. false hope, false responsibility, etc). It is the opposite of progression.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  16. Angelica

    I'm Mormon, a convert, and proud of that. Who is anyone to judge another for thier beliefs? At the end of the day faith is faith no matter who has it, or what context it comes in. If Mormonism works for my family and myself who are any of you to beat that up.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • JT

      I have no problem with it. Just keep it to yourself and stop knocking on my door and attempting to convert me.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • someoneelse

      Brainwashed kids are bad enough, but a convert? I can only imagine how you improve society!

      June 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • spr

      mormonism is no less plausible than christianity or islam. They just had longer periods of time to make the main tennants what worked.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Beliefs can be judges. They aren't people and sacrosanct. All harmful beliefs used to oppress and control others, should be challenged.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      @Angelica....I as a Christian would not judge you, but I could judge your beliefs. Those 2 things are different.

      @spr....I can't really believe your comparing those 3. First off Jesus cannot be the brother of Lucifer if He is the only begotten son. That is just contradictory and disproves Mormonism right there. Next, Islam tells people to kill others who don't believe in their faith. Last, Christianity is the only faith that has a God who has not died and is a loving God.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Minoa

      @JT Chill, JT. Virtually EVERY organization tries to get the word out and increase membership. Most try door-to-door canvassing, and that includes the Democrat and Republican parties, and all kinds of religions. In the suburb where I live here in Tennessee, representatives of even our volunteer fire department come by once or twice a year to persuade us to be “members” of their support organization, and they are quite organized about asking for regular donations. For all these organizations: if you’re not interested, just politely SAY you’re not interested, and the door-to-door rep will say goodbye and move on. What’s the big deal?

      June 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  17. Rocco P

    One thing it appears that both Mormons and non-Mormons agree on here is that this article is extremely superficial and inaccurate. Often when I discuss with Mormons and point out glaring contradictions between the LDS church and Biblical Christianity, the first repsonse I get is: "Oh, those are just a bunch of baseless lies told about our church to slander us." Then when I provide them with quotes from their own authorized books supporting my claims, they then say: "You are misconstruing that, or pulling it out of context." When I show them that the context is very clear, then will say: "I don't want to argue with you, or speak with you anymore, since you're dishonest". They have developed a system to evade any close examination or consideration or possible error.
    Here are some facts which can be backed up by official Mormon literature which disqualify it from being the true church of Jesus Christ:
    1) The LDS church teaches that the One we call God, the Father, wasn't always God, but was once a normal human being on another planet an via progression BECAME a god. The Christian God is eternal, was always God, and unchanging, Big contrast.
    2) The LDS church teaches normal human beings living today, can also, by keeping the ordinances in their church, progress to become gods. This is sci-fi - but not Christianity, which states that there is only one true God and Creator and none other.
    3) Mormonism has its roots in freemasonary - in fact its founder/prophet was once the state head of the freemasons in Illionois before he broke away. However many of the secret practices of the freemasons are preserved in the Mormon "endowment" ceremonies. For instance on their "sacred undergarments" one can still find the triangular shaped square (freemason symbol) embossed over the breast, confirming this fact.
    4) The Bible is a book which is rooted in real history, places, events, people have been confirmed via archeology. The book of Mormon is religious fiction - none of the places, events, people have been correlated by archeology. We have thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible in hand for reference. The golden plates of the Book of Morman were conveniently whisked away by an angel. No textual manuscripts of the Book of Mormon are older than Joseph Smith, since they originate from him.
    If people want to put their faith in science fiction, or scientology or a freemason sect - that's their decision - but when they claim it is related to, or it is the continuation of the the Christian faith, then that's utter nonsense.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • cat

      I concurn with the above as I myself have read through Mormom texts and found all these to be true. In addition, when you get to heaven you're supposed to give some special greeting/handshake so they know you're 'for real'. Some people claim this, among other rituals, was stolen from the Masons. Also, there is text stating that pluralism (polygamy) is from God but they don't practice it because it's agains tthe law now. Joseph Smith practiced polygamy before he was "told of it from God". The Book of Mormon is not rooted in history and part of the scroll was found and was determined to be of Egyptian origin with nothing in common to what Joseph translated.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Mad Scientist

      Amen brother.

      I actually hold muslims in higher regard. And considering the deep dark pit that i think that Islam should be tossed in, that is saying a lot.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Trevor Rowe

      Where did the Bible come from? Why is there is King James Version? If there are multiple versions, do they all say the same thing? How do you know what you are reading is right, hasn't changed, and another version is correct?

      June 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Justin

      Add to the list that...

      5. They believe that the Trinity is made up of 3 separate Gods, not 1 God of 3 persons.

      6. They essentially teach legalism in that you must keep the whole law to be saved and rely on God's grace where you fall short. Christians are instead saved by God's grace alone and not in any way by our works. Our good works are the effect of our salvation, it's not the other way around.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Bil

      Justin – Your number 6 response is not correct. Your reference to "not in any way by our works" is entirely false. That belief reflects a purely Protestant viewpoint. If your argument against Mormons is that humans made it up, I would agree. But Protestantism was also the modification of Catholicism by humans with an agenda. There was no divine inspiration that created new canonical texts for the Protestants. They simply used a scalpel to change the parts of Catholicism (and the Bible) they didn't like. Luther entered the word "alone" in Romans 3:28 and he removed 7 books from the Old Testament. One of the 95 theses written by Luther was specifically related to works and his objection to them as being necessary for salvation. Believe it if you want, but Catholicism is the Church created by the Apostles themselves. They believed that works matter. Have a look at Matthew 7:21 and James 2:24.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • NoBS

      Yes, they are apologists. They are told to do this by their leaders. It's called "Lying for the Lord."

      June 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Minoa

      Rocco and Justin, what are you so hot and bothered about? You apparently believe that the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” are three names for the same being, while Mormons apparently believe each one is a separate being. Either way, all of you believe Jesus was somehow the “son of God” that is everyone’s only hope to be “saved.” I wish you’d realize that most of the world thinks both views are unsubstantiated dogma. As for the works v. grace controversy, even before Mormons existed many versions of that tired feud were bringing rival Protestants to blows for centuries. All of you remind me of two rival gymnastics teams I was familiar with about ten years ago when I lived in New Jersey: they hated each other because they disagreed over how a certain move on the balance beam was supposed to be done. And when I say “hate,” I do not exaggerate. Meanwhile, the rest of the city (those that heard about it, anyway) thought the hatred and trash-talking behavior between both teams was ridiculous. The problem was NOT how the move was done. The problem was the decision to hate another group because of an honest difference of opinion. Grow up.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • joanne

      O.K. here we go:
      1. Jesus commanded us, in the Bible, to "become ye therefore perfect" and to "partake of all the Father hath". Progress is one of the main reasons we're here on earth. We're supposed to get better! That desire for progress, even excellence, burns within all of us-unless it is snuffed out by drugs, abuse, etc. Becoming better leads to perfection. When you are perfect, you are on par with God. You are not God. If you were a doctor and you had a son who worked hard to become a doctor-you would be thrilled if he worked with you. This is how God feels about us. It's a new concept to you-but it's a very old truth-restored.
      2. Check out early Catholicism: Before the "Greek Orthodox/Roman divide", the doctrine of eventual Godhood was taught by the church! The Roman version left this teaching behind...but take a closer look at this early Greek Orthodox teaching.
      3. The teachings of free masonry are ancient. They tap into the earliest faith. But true doctrine is has been changed, scattered and some it corrupted over time. This is why you see pieces of truth in every religion. Your soul recognizes it. The restoration of the gospel (that actually goes back to Adam and Eve, and not just to Joseph Smith, as is commonly misunderstood) just puts all these pieces together again. Via God-our Heavenly Father. Jesus gave us the clue: "One fath, one baptism..." It's so beautiful and generous of our Father in heaven to give us all another chance. Let's take it seriously and not mock and deride. Those who do this are not the "fruits". Jesus said "by there fruits ye shall know them". Hatred isn't good fruit.
      4. You might want to read DNA eveidence and the Book of Mormon. The Bible has had a whole lot more time for evidence to emerge. But scientific/archaeological evidence is out there and more comes in every year. Take a look at FAIR mormon.
      That said, you might want to stand before the Savior one day and say "I knew it was true because I prayed about it and because I lived in such a humble, honest way that the spirit was able to teach me." As it says it the bible, "I would give away all my sins to know thee". Give some more away-hang out a little less with the haters and get on your knees.
      See you in heaven...

      June 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  18. dc3gal

    I am a former Mormon and I can tell you that this article is pretty good. That picture there is very deceiving though. They look like the gang from the reformed church who practice pologamy which the main stream Mormon church does NOT allow.

    Luther what you said about the church's motto is totally wrong.

    Brandon in answer to your question, no it's not true.

    Found writings, have you questioned how the Bible got started?

    Stephanie just because you don't understand it doesn't make it weird

    June 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  19. DoodleSheep

    The most important fact about mormonism is it is just as much a stupid thing as any other religion. Followers of the mormon lie are just as ignorant and stupid as other christian sects, judaism, and islam.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • EspyLaCopa

      Oh let them fight over whose god is best. Keeps em busy.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  20. Doomguy

    All religion is garbage on some level.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Adam

      Yes, the level where it purports to be true and demands belief upon insufficient evidence.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
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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.