Easter Sunday is a busy time for many Christian churches. And for one Florida church, "busy" only begins to describe it. The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe has no permanent members, but it will host tens of thousands of worshipers today.
That's because the church is across the street from Walt Disney World. The main basilica was built in the early 1990s, to give visitors to the resort complex a place to worship. As its website clarifies, Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine is not a parish church.
The shrine is holding eight Easter Masses today; the first began at 7:30 this morning, and the last will begin at 6 tonight. To handle the large crowds, the basilica is using an overflow tent that can hold 1,000 people.
From Orlando, Amy Kiley of member station WMFE reports:
"The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe hosts about 35,000 Catholics on Easter Sunday - and none are church members.
"Tourists started the ministry at Disney World before funding the basilica. Director of Operations Gina Schwiegerath says the shrine needs a tent for overflow crowds.
"'People from all over the world, all over the nation, gather together in one place, and for that hour, you're not people from all over the world,' Schwiegerath says. 'We're a Catholic community sharing in the Body of Christ, which is amazing.'
"The church and tent have about 3,700 seats. Still, nearly 1,800 people stand during the busiest Easter Masses."
The shrine's complex has grown over the years; the property includes a gift shop, in addition to a museum and gardens.
Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.
As a volunteer for the 2013 Boston Marathon, nurse Amelia Nelson thought should would be there to help runners as they came across the finish line.
"Our whole mission was to make sure that we kinda talked to people as they came across the finish line, ask them how their time was, make sure that they were oriented, make sure they knew what was going on and if they needed an intervention, to take them into the medical tent," Nelson says.
Nelson ended up having to treat far more grievous wounds that day. Three people died and at least 260 were injured in the bombing that occurred near the finish line. On Monday, Amelia Nelson will return to the race course, this time as a runner.
And while the day will be a celebration, she tells NPR's Rachel Martin it will be hard not to conjure up thoughts of that day one year ago when she and her friend Kristy showed up to their duty station.
Just after 2 p.m., Nelson says she remarked how uneventful the day had been, with few runners needing assistance.
"It had been perfect," she says.
And that's when the first bomb went off. She said for a moment the whole world froze, and everyone was looking toward the smoke. It was a moment she says seemed to last forever.
"And all of a sudden that moment is broken by screaming and total chaos," she says.
As an emergency provider, Nelson's training sprang into action and she ran toward the site of the first bomb. After helping people on the scene, she hopped in an ambulance and went to the hospital to help patients there as well.
The recovery from that day has been a gradual process, Nelson says.
"The first time I went back was a couple weeks after ... and it scared me to no end," she says.
The idea to run in the 2014 marathon came from her volunteer team leader, who had run the race before.
"She looked at us and she was like, 'I'm gonna get your girls' numbers and we're gonna run this, and that's how we're gonna make this better," she says.
Nelson says it was hard to mix her training for the Boston Marathon in between her 12-hour shifts as a nurse.
"I'm not one of those people that runs every day; I'm not someone who wakes up wanting to run every day," she says. "But it has certainly been an escape ... [to] be out in the city and appreciate what it is."
The determination to train for and run this year's race, Nelson says, comes from doing it as a community and as a team, as well as doing it for those who can't run.
"I feel like there are a whole lot of people who need this, including myself," she says.
She's anxious the race, but more anxious about the anniversary of the bombing on April 15. She felt a huge sense of relief once she got past that day, and the race is the next step.
"By Monday night, I will be thrilled that it is over," she says. "I feel like I can get back to some sense of normalcy, where I don't need to get up and run every morning."
And, she says, she'll keep running, though probably not distances as long as a marathon.
Keep up with Nelson, one of eight runners NPR followed through their training for the Boston Marathon.
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Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the former boxing champion whose conviction for a triple murder was overturned after he served nearly 20 years in prison, has died of prostate cancer. Carter, whose story inspired a Bob Dylan song and a Denzel Washington film, was 76.
Carter was a contender for the middleweight boxing crown in the 1960s, but his life and career were derailed when he and another man were convicted of three murders that took place at a bar in Paterson, N.J., in 1966.
Carter maintained his innocence and his advocates kept working for his release after his 1967 murder conviction.
After several reversals, Carter eventually regained his freedom in 1985.
A federal court "found that police and prosecutors had violated Carter's rights to a fair trial," as NPR's Nina Totenberg reported back in 1999, "not to mention the trial judge, who allowed the prosecution to put on a case that the federal courts later found to be tainted by an appeal to racial prejudice."
A native of New Jersey, Carter died in Toronto, where he moved after being freed.
He was active in the movement to free wrongfully convicted prisoners, reports Jon Kalish for our Newscast unit.
"There are far more people who are wrongly convicted than people would like to think about," Carter said of his activism. "And this is my work because people came to help me when I was in dire need of help."
At the end of his life, Carter was comforted by John Artis, who had been convicted along with him back in the 1960s. As the New York Daily News reported last month, Artis moved in with Carter after learning his friend was being devastated by his fight with cancer.
"He didn't ask me (to come here)," Artis told the newspaper. "When I heard he was dying, it was a no-brainer. I didn't give it a second thought. All he knew was I knocked on the door and said, 'All right. I'm here.' That pleased him. It brought a chuckle from him."
Martha Ann Overland
Nearly a decade has passed since the doors of the Saint Frances Cabrini Catholic Church were shut and its holy water dried up.
With the Archdiocese of Boston strapped for cash, it was one of dozens of churches in the area to be closed and sold off. At the time, the archdiocese was in the throes of the clergy sex abuse crisis. It had agreed to pay nearly $85 million to more than 500 people who said they were abused by priests.
The closing of the church took parishioners in Scituate, Mass., about 30 miles south of Boston, by surprise. The locks were changed in the middle of the night, but a side door of the church had not been properly closed.
That's when parishioners decided to take back "their" church. They sneaked in.
Since October, 2004, followers have continuously occupied the building. Turns are taken sleeping in the church as part of their 24-hour, seven-day-a-week vigil. They've kept the candles lit, the heat on and the lawn mowed. With no priests, parishioners hold services themselves.
"For the last 50 years, every priest from the pulpit has told us this is our church," parishioner Jon Rogers tells NPR's Rachel Martin in an interview. "It was our church up until the time they said now we need to liquidate their asset, to basically pay for the horrific crimes of sexual abuse."
Despite the financial crisis, Rogers says the Catholic Church can't just tell them to get out. The church was built on land given by the community and built with their donations.
"Well, guess what?" Rogers asks. "We are not going to give it up. We truly believe it is ours."
The Archdiocese of Boston does not see it that way. It has stood its ground, patiently outwaiting nearly all of the churches that initially refused to close. Nearly 10 years on, worshipers in this seaside town are the last holdouts.
A resolution, however, could be imminent. The parishioners' appeals have worked their way through the Church's legal system. The Vatican's highest court is set to rule this spring.
If the decision does not go their way, this might be the last Easter celebrated in this church.
That would be a huge shame, Rogers says. With its service and the Easter egg hunt, it's the most exciting day of the year. The entire parish gathers, he says, with upwards of 800 people attending.
Even if the Vatican decides against them, it's not entirely clear the protestors would give up their church. "We bought, paid for it, and today maintain it," says Rogers. "So we're keeping it."
What a week it's been for giant pandas. We know because for the past seven days, we have been Google Frecking for pandas.
Google Frecking is an info-gathering game we devised — at the suggestion of our creative editor — for drilling a little deeper into a subject that intrigues us. In this case: pandas.
Last weekend we set up a Google Alert for pandas. We directed Google to send us news about pandas "when it happens" and we asked for "all results."
We call it frecking because it's a hunt-and-peck extraction process - a little like fracking - that helps us find untapped resources for stories. Plus we like this line from a James Russell Lowell poem about a cathedral: Painted windows, frecking gloom with glow.
Google Frecking teaches us that pandas can be:
1) Sad: On Orange Jasmine Purple Yam we read the story of Sijia - a giant panda living in a Yunnan wildlife park - who was distraught and stopped eating when her panda pal Meiqian was shipped away. Zookeepers set up a monitor that shows videos of Sijia and Meiqian playing together in happier times.
2) Inspirational: Through Google Frecking, we stumble on the Hungry Panda Club, a New York City group that shares interests in food and networking. Co-founder Alicia Dai of IAC / InterActive tells NPR: "Apart from a majority of our constituents being Asian, the name had a nice ring to it and pandas are just lovable, innocuous creatures."
3) Sweet of Tooth: Researchers recently reported that pandas - whose diet consists mostly of bamboo - have a "sweet receptor" in their DNA, similar to humans. This suggests that ancestral pandas were able to eat fruits before they were shooed-away from the lowlands to the mountains by human expansion. Do pandas in captivity come to prefer sugary foods to bamboo? NPR asks lead researcher Danielle Reed of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "Our data would suggest that liking for sweet food is a function of inborn biology and not the effects of captivity," she says. "Pandas in the wild would immediately accept sweet foods if they were available."
4) Symbolic: In the aftershocks of Flight 370's disappearance on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, relations between Malaysia and China have been frayed. Tensions could affect the delivery of a panda to Kuala Lumpur scheduled for May 31, an important diplomatic anniversary for the two countries. "Delays beyond this date would make the event less meaningful," reports Sin Chew Daily, a large Chinese-language newspaper in Malaysia.
6) Bashful: At the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, panda couple Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been having trouble making a baby panda. So Tian Tian was artificially inseminated. Apparently, we won't know if the procedure worked until Tian Tian has a cub - or not.
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers - Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers - of NPR. @NPRtpj