April 7th, 2012
08:48 AM ET

Taking a rare tour of a Mormon temple

By Eric Marrapodi and Brian Todd, CNN

Kansas City, Missouri (CNN) - Elder William Walker slipped white booties over his black wing-tip shoes and instructed his guests to do the same as he led them into the newest Mormon temple in the world.

This day was the first chance the public had to see inside the sacred space for the area’s 49,000 Mormons, and it was also one of the last.

On May 6, when Thomas S. Monson, the head of the 14 million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, dedicates this temple, the doors will close forever to the public. The church said it expects as many as 100,000 visitors in Kansas City before the temple will be closed to the public.

After that, only temple-recommended Mormons will be able to walk through the heavy wooden and stained-glass doors.

“This is a sacred space, set apart place for only those who are devout followers of the faith,” Walker said.

For Mormons, temples serve as places of contemplation, instruction and worship experiences, like weddings and posthumous baptisms.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The 67-year-old Walker is the executive director of the Temple Department, and he is the point man for the church’s 137 temples.

Walker is a top official in the LDS church as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and he reports directly to Monson. The Canadian-born hockey fanatic has been a lifelong member of the church. He graduated from Brigham Young University, served a Mormon mission to Japan and spent time in the private sector working in securities and investment banking before being called to serve the church full-time in 2002.

Kansas City’s temple is the latest to open. The church has announced it will build 29 temples across five continents. Construction is under way in Paris and Rome, and temples are planned for Peru and South Africa.

“We’re building temples where the church is grown and have a concentration of members,” he said.

Outside the new Mormon temple in Kansas City, Missouri.

Inside the temple the required first stop is the Recommend Desk. After the dedication, only Mormons who have a recommend card are able to enter and participate in worship. The personalized cards are given by local church leaders to adherents who profess to be living in accordance with church teachings.

As he explained the process, Walker reached into his wallet, pushed his Utah driver’s license aside and pulled out his recommend card, which was endorsed by Monson, his bishop. Walker said his credit-card-sized recommend card, like all others, is only good for two years.

CNN was invited by church officials to tour the temple with Walker before its dedication. The church denied CNN's request to film inside the space, saying it was against church policy. The LDS church provided still images after the tour, which accurately depicted key parts of the temple. In a rare move, CNN was permitted to film inside the front of the temple at the Recommend Desk, but no farther.

"It's not about secret. It's about sacred,” Walker said after the tour, making what the church sees as a key distinction. “We feel that it's a very sacred and special place and therefore it is reserved for those worship functions and those ordinances that take place in the temple. It's not about secret."

Walker said the policy is not unlike that for Shinto shrines in Japan, where he served his mission.

But it's a thin line between sacred and secret. Public tours of the temple are only available when they are first built or undergo massive renovations. After that, outsiders and Mormons who are not temple recommended are kept out, even from wedding ceremonies.

In the sealing room, where eternal weddings take place, Walker points out the altar at the center of the room. The bride and groom kneel facing each other and the officiant stands off to the side. The room is richly decorated with Swarovski crystal chandeliers and massive gilded mirrors on either side of the room, and Walker raves about the design on the white carpet, carefully explaining how local artisans cut the meticulous pattern by hand.

Despite the grand size of the building, each room is small: This is the biggest of the three sealing rooms, and its capacity is just 49 people.

Guests are welcome at Sunday worship at one of the church’s 18,000 meeting houses, Walker is quick to note. The temple, he observes, “is a sacred, special place that’s unique. There are only 137 of these temples in all the world.”

The temple also contains a gleaming baptismal font. Though it’s a point of pride for Mormons, it has been controversial elsewhere. A church ceremony called “proxy baptisms” by Mormons includes posthumous baptisms of Jews, some of whom have protested the practice.

The baptismal font at the newest Mormon temple.

However, in Mormon doctrine, baptism is essential for salvation. While converts to the faith are baptized in services at local wards, the weekly meeting place for services open to the public, proxy baptisms take place only in the temple and in private.

The proxy baptisms are supposed to be for Mormons’ ancestors who were not of the faith. Walker said the baptism serves as an invitation to accept Mormonism as an avenue into heaven.

Explainer: How and why do Mormons baptize the dead?

At the temple, Walker took his visitors through the process as it is supposed to work.

The font rests on 12 oxen, which he said represent the tribes of Israel.

Adherents change into white gowns he jokingly referred to as "jumpsuits," provided by the temple. A male priest leads the proxy into the waist-high water, gives the blessing and the name of the ancestor, then the proxy is lowered into the water, fully immersed, then brought up to the surface. The desk next to the font has a small monitor and a light. That person's job is to record the act for the church's central database.

When the temple begins operation, Walker said, this is a scene that will play out “hundreds of times a day.”

But some Mormons have used the church’s extensive genealogy database to baptize others who are not Mormon ancestors, such as the murdered Jewish reporter Daniel Pearl and holocaust victims like Anne Frank. It’s a practice that has outraged Jewish leaders.

“When people violate the church policy of doing baptisms for those who our leaders have said we’re not going to do that, they’re acting on their own in contradiction of church policy,” he said. “We’re unhappy about that. We love our Jewish friends. We don’t want to offend them or anyone else by our religious practices.”

“We’re sorry. We live by our word and when we say we’re going to do something, we’re going to try and do it,” Walker said.

He promised disciplinary action.

“We’re now tracking those who’ve done this contrary to church policy and we’re going to shut down their access to the church’s database, Family Search, so they can’t do this.”

He acknowledges interest in proxy baptisms, and other Mormon practices, has spiked thanks to Mormon Mitt Romney’s run for president.

While the church takes no position on party politics nor allows its officials to endorse candidates, Walker can see some good coming out of Romney's run for the White House.

“I think it’s perfectly understandable people who are considering him would want to know more about the church he espouses,” he said. “In many ways it may be a good thing that people will want to know more. Maybe some of the old ideas about the church that have persisted in American culture can change.”

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.

soundoff (4,366 Responses)
  1. Rob in San Diego

    They sure got a lot of money.$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    April 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Joseph Smith

      People give $ when they are threatened and their "salvation" is dependent on it. Mormons are shamed into giving...then their "church" uses the $ to pay for billboards all over the place to try to get Romney elected.

      April 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • pastmorm

      Well mormons have to give a lot of money to their church. Otherwise they can't get a temple recommend and if they can't get one of those they can't do their temple rituals that will prepare them for godhood after this life.

      April 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Joseph Smith

      Good info postmorm...sounds like blackmail and a Ponzi scheme all mixed together. Yikes.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • heguido

      OK, pastmorm, next time we will ask you what to do with our money. From the comments it seems that awful things happen in the temples, but somehow mormons are over-willing to "give money" to get into them.
      C'mon... Ask any member who is in good terms with God why they LOVE the temples... People full of resentment and bitternes are not the best sources, unless they first confess why are they resentful.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • pastmorm

      heguido....there are 14 million (assuming that's a real number) mormons in the world. There are 7 BILLION people in the world. I think that 14 million peoples judgement could be cast in doubt when it comes to questioning whether or not they are really ok with what they do in their temples. Of course cut that number in half cause mormons can't even drink coffee and go to the temple (coffee is illegal to mormons). SO basically you don't have a lot of people willing to talk about their temple rituals compared to how many people there are in the world, do you?

      April 8, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Huh?

      Pastmorm. What? Why does it matter the % of Mormons to the world population? Who cares. And how does drinking coffee have anything to do with what you are talking about? Again, who cares. Having a small % of the population as compared to that of the world does not inherently mean that it is false. Does that mean that because the Mormon church is one of the fastest growing churches in the world that it is becoming more and more true every year? So what is the magic number when all of the Mormon doctrine becomes true? 20 million? 50 million?

      Truth is truth, especially when you are talking about God. He doesn't need a majority vote to decide what is truth. If you don't believe it, then fine. Go your way. I choose to believe it. And hopefully we can meet up after this life, go out for a cup of...hot chocolate...(my treat), and discuss the truth at that point, who was right, and who was wrong.

      April 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  2. joshua steven big blue kirby walker

    Wow... to help someone doesnt mean ur like Christ Jesus maybe a characteristic of him...atheists, agnostics and others help people as well and some of them preach against belief in Christ. What is Christ like, is; following Christ and believing in his teachings and sharing and demonstrating that with others.

    April 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  3. Nunya

    Ooh! A tour! Did they show off the Gold Plates? The ones the Book of Mormon was written on? Remember, Joseph Smith could only read them to a transcriber while looking at them inside a hat (the entire book of mormon apparently was written on a gold book that fit inside a gent's hat!) and when the transcriber asked him to read back the original pages, Smith got angry, said God was angry and that he could no longer read from that specific book. Oh yeah, he read the plates using a magic stone by the way that translated the Egyptian hieroglyphics on the gold plates, that tell the tale of Jesus Christ discovering America and preaching to the Native Americans. What's also funny, is this same "seer stone" is the same one that Smith was reported to charging people money to find buried treasure with it. The Entire Mormon religion is one big hilarious joke. Make sure you cough up your 10%.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Bellagiodude

      The plates were revealed to 15 witnesses. All testified they saw them.

      April 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Joseph

      15 people stuck on the East side of the Rockies not really looking forward to the rest of the trip. Its a joke, come'on man. Just admit youre part of a religion with a cooky story behind it.

      April 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Maybe11

      Looks to have as much credibility as the Bible.

      April 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • MarioC

      How reliable is the word of a witness, even 15 of them, when there is no hard, tangible proof? But then we realize the whole book of mormon is a self-reinforced delusion built on Joseph Smith's earlier reputation as a tresure hunter and a con man (like his dad was). How convenient it is that the plates were taken away by an "angel" (a mythical creature).

      Modern archeological data refutes any claims that the so-called Israeli tribes ended up in America.

      April 8, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  4. Bellagiodude

    It's funny to read these comments. None of you have a clue. I remember being in grade school and kids talking about the same thing. Now a lot of them are Mormons. The Mormon church has helped more people mostly non Mormons an nations than any other organization. During the great depression the government came and asked for help with organizing welfare. It helps families all over the world. If that is not Christ like. Then I don't know what is.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  5. Republicans are Neanderthals

    It is not the physical building, but what goes on inside once the temple is dedicated.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  6. biologixco

    Mittens ROMNEY is a HIGH PRIEST and ELDER of the mormon "church".
    Google it. Dont take my word for it.
    Learn the truth
    Mormonism is a cult and ROMNEY BELONGS TO THAT CULT!

    April 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • biologixco

      America, would you elect a cult high priest to be President of our great nation?
      Romney might as well be with scientology.
      Same thing...C U L T.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • RAWR

      I think all religions are ridiculous, jockeying for a "moral" advantage to brag about over everyone who is different.

      How do you think Christianity started out? AS A CULT.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • biologixoo

      I take back everything that I said, I understand why we have the Declaration of Independence and what my First Amendment Rights are. That America is based on the Freedom to Choose. As an proud American citizen, I will not preach HATE and learn to get a life and not spend so much time talking about things I know nothing of.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
      • biologixco

        Uh oh. I must've struck a nerve. thin skinned them mormons are.

        April 8, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Gene

      Just did a GOOGLE search on "poodle cult", and came up with 878,000 results. Must be a lot of demonic dogs out there. This means nothing.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Bellagiodude

      Define C U L T

      April 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • TJ

      They are NOT a cult. They have engaged in mass murder (Mountain Meadows) just like all the other "organized" religions, so that makes them part of the family! 🙂

      April 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • heguido

      Oh, c'mon... stop it with the "HIGH PRIEST" stuff. If you know so much about mormonism as you claim to, you know pretty well that there are a LOT of high priests in the church. My father is one, I'm one, my neighbour is one, my brother in law is an other one. And we are plain members...In the Church of Jesus Christ every worthy men (meaning those who keep the basic commandments the Lord taught) holds the Priesthood, being an Elder or High Priest...

      April 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • reality check

      At least Romney isn't a cannibal like those Catholics do every week. “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” —Stephen F Roberts

      April 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  7. MarioC

    The fine line between secret and sacred is a matter of semantics. True, the Mormon church discriminates against its own members when they do not meet certain "high standards" to enter Mormon temples. I was a Mormon once and I know what goes on inside. Trust me, you aren't missing anything.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Bellagiodude

      They don't discriminate at all.. The temple is there for all who are worthy. Just the same with death, you go to heaven if you lived your life accordingly. The temple is sacred, if it were secret they wouldn't have open houses. it seems your may have n issue with your maker.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • reality check

      Why is it your "family oriented church" won't allow non-mormon family members inside for weddings? A non-mormon mother can't see her lds child marry in the temple. She has to settle for a dumb ring ceremony.

      Why is it that a man may know his wife's "new name" but his wife may not be told him? Oh, divide the sacred relationship of the spouses for a start at marriage. Sounds like a great plan.

      Sorry, I've been inside and see it for what it is...tripe like all other religions: “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” —Stephen F Roberts

      April 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  8. biologixco

    The elders of your church seek to inject their HIGH PRIEST MITT ROMNEY into the POTUS position. Its an evil mormon plot America is not yet privvy to. Americans will NOT tolerate mormon meddling in our Presidency. Once people understand the concepts of mormonism, they will openly question how such beliefs would shape the law and character of our great nation. Its been bad enough having to deal with Orrin Hatch. But Mitt Romney? Ack.
    America needs to understand what your cult is up to

    April 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • biologixco

      Google: kolub, joseph smith, deuteronomy 18:20.
      Find out what mormonism is all about.
      Thats why they have the "Im a Mormon" television commercials.
      Just google it. You'll see whos wearing a tin foil hat (planet kolub? smile!)

      April 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Bellagiodude

      When Christ was on he earth people didn't know who he was. He was not automatically recognized as the son of god. You had to follow him and study him. Same as the lds church. Don't call it somehing it's not. Study it, follow it, you will be surprised.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Mike Keester

      What about Harry Reed?

      April 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Huh?

      biologixco. So, what IS the Mormon church up to? You apparently know. Are we going to force Mitt to enact laws forcing everyone in the country to be baptized into the church or pay a tax? Are we going to pass out the Mormon " Kool Aid" at our public schools and force the religion on everyone? my gosh. Grow up.

      April 8, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
      • biologixco

        The American people are trying to find out the details of the lds plan. You people are secretive and cult like. But you can bet when they find out about planet kolob and the magical undies, mittens is sunk.
        That aint no bunk...

        April 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Bellagiodude

      Go mitt!!! Can't be any worse than the 7 trillion dollars spent on absolute nothing.

      April 9, 2012 at 2:17 am |
  9. Michael M.

    I don't understand why so many take it upon themselves to bad mouth my faith. I don't try and critizes other peoples beliefs. I try the best I can to teach my family how to follow our Savior Jesus Christ. I know I have my faults and my church organization is not perfect but I also understand the grace and mercy of our Savior.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Smeagel4T

      The Mormon faith does not adhere to the tenents of Christianity. It is a heathen religion, and God shall curse this great country if a heathen is placed at its head.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • biologixco

      Good on you guy. Be a good American. But understand. The elders of your church seek to inject their HIGH PRIEST MITT ROMNEY into the POTUS position. Its an evil mormon plot America is not yet privvy to. Americans will NOT tolerate mormon meddling in our Presidency. Once people understand the concepts of mormonism, they will openly question how such beliefs would shape the law and character of our great nation. Its been bad enough having to deal with Orrin Hatch. But MItt Romney?
      You need to understand what your cult is up to

      April 8, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • MarioC

      What you call badmouthing your faith is just plain folks, fellow Americans telling you what they think of your religion. And Mormonism has a checkered history. Just don't play the victim's card, the "we are so persecuted for our faith" deal.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Say what?

      Michael M, sadly, we have too many fools in our country. For those that believe, thy shall not judge, for the rest, we pray for them. Thats all we can do, Michael M...have faith, there are too many bullies out there that aren't worth it

      April 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  10. Smeagel4T

    The spread of Mormon heathenism is rampant. God shall truly curse our country if a Mormon heathen is elected President.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • biologixco

      Shout it from the highest Utah mountain!

      April 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • mariosphere

      Hahahahah, Mormon heathenism? Is English your first language? Please don't insult the heathens by attaching them to a made-up American religion.

      You don't want a Mormon president. Vote for Obama then.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  11. kirby joseph im lost me name

    oh no.... I must not have my magic underwear, I cant even figure out my name

    April 8, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Bellagiodude

      This will come back to haunt you.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  12. joseph kirby scott

    Magic Underwear ...oh wow...yeah i wonder if i could fly then...haha

    April 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  13. biologixco

    LDS is probably gonna send their goon squad out to get me.
    Scientologists tried that too...
    Argghhhh, a cult is out to get me!

    April 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  14. joseph kirby

    The baptismal for the dead is another false doctrine they excersize...each person is responsible for his/her actions, once your gone there is no way to pray and or baptise anyone into heaven. The mormon faith is not a representation of Christianity they are their own religion. Their scriptures are a tainted extension of the Holy Bible. Jesus said there would be many false prophets after him. i.e Joseph Smith, Muhammad etc...

    April 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • MarioC

      You are right and wrong at the same time. There is no such thing as a prophet, which is a literary construct present in many literary traditions.

      Joseph Smith was no prophet (you are right). He was a con man who built a shabby fantasy world that no one could challenge; he was charismatic and a womanizer.

      It is possible to be a miscreant and still inspire others to do good things for society. J. Smith is just one of many examples.

      April 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  15. biologixco

    I have a vaild scientific question:
    If I fart into my magic underwear, is it a magic fart?
    Does it make it smell any better?

    April 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  16. biologixco

    I contribute to society by being a sentinel.
    Your cult is positioned to inject your HIGH PRIEST MITT ROMNEY into the office of President of the United States.
    By warning Americans of your plot along with the far out practices of mormons,
    We can put a stop to the plot
    Im just doing God's will (smile)

    April 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • biologixco

      Can you imagine how Americans will howl with laughter at MITT, when they find out about kolob and magic underwear?
      We still dont know: Does MITT ROMNEY WEAR THE MAGIC UNDIES>?

      April 8, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • reality check

      Biologixco, are you still playing in the underwear of Mormons? How many times do I have to tell you that Mormons have special markings to remind them "Every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ." Why is that a problem for you but a crucifix, cross, or yarmulke isn't?

      April 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  17. Paul lytle

    How is it that there is no evidence anywhere that the a small group of Jews ever landed in South America? Joe practiced divination! Now we have a potential president who is following a cult and CNN wants to jump in bed with him now to. Just like Obama the abortionist!

    April 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • biologixco

      Get a grip, bub, Joseph Smith was a false prophet.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • MarioC

      Wrong on both counts. Obama is not abortionist, he defends the reproductive rights of women. Big distinction. And there is no such thing as a prophet...because no single human being can predict the future.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  18. Michael

    Heaven is my throme and the earth is my footstool, what house will you build me. I dwell not in temples made with hands nor am worshiped with mans hands as though I need anything. I dwell amoung the broken and contrite. These are paraphased statments that I beleive that most of you know. This should give you all you need to know as true temples of God if you have received his spirit (reserrection). Let us walk in this spirit, he leads and guides to all truth, we will not be fooled........

    April 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • jd

      The truth really does set you free

      April 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • biologixco

      holy smokes, some people ARE way out there

      April 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  19. Paul lytle

    Cult! Cult! Cult! Cult!

    April 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Layne

      Yesterday's cults are today's mainstream religions, and yesterday's mainstream religions are today's mythologies.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  20. BradK

    "While the church takes no position on party politics nor allows its officials to endorse candidates"

    And what was Prop8 all about then?

    April 8, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • biologixco

      Those mormons lie thru their teeth, dont they?
      Can we trust one of THEM to be President of the United States?
      God save America!

      April 8, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • reality check

      Prop8 was an issue with morality giving them the right to inject themselves. The Catholics do the same with reproductive rights for women.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • toddgbarrow

      The church doesn't take a stand in PARTY politics. Prop 8 wasn't party politics. It was an issue. It wasn't Democrats vs Republicans etc. So while the church never says, vote for Dems or vote for Repubs, it does very rarely take a stand on certain issues.

      April 8, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • MarioC

      Wrong, the Catholic church never said that it doesn't involve itself in politics. But the Mormon church makes it a point of their public persona to say it does not get involved in politics. Liars. Proposition 8 is proof. Mormon volunteers, Mormon funds went into that effort.

      And one of their little secrets is that Mormon members with Republican leanings are viewed more favorably. I know it for a fact, from speaking with some of them. I used to be a Mormon; during a Mormon chatroom session, when I mentioned Harry Reid –who is Mormon– I was greeted with "Reid is a baby killer!" by some of the Mormon attendees.

      And some Mormons take their political views as secret. Once I asked a longtime friend, a very active Mormon, to tell me about his vote AFTER the elections. His response: Sorry, that's personal information.

      Since when?

      April 8, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Huh?

      That's true. The church does not endorse any party or candidate. It encourages its members to vote for whomever they feel would best represent our country and their own political views.

      You are confusing people's personal actions and opinions with the church taking a stand.

      It is not often that propositions are brought to vote that want to destroy the fabric and foundation of a family. Prop 8 was one of those times. I have no problem with the church taking a stand against something that is trying to forever change one of its core beliefs. Isn't that what you should do? Apparently this was a big enough topic for the church to take a stand. It was the first time it has done that. And I applaud it.

      April 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
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About this blog

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.