Rebecca Smith / KBIA

During Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. last month, he praised the late Thomas Merton as one of four great Americans. Merton was one of the most influential Catholic writers of the 20th century. He spent the last twenty years of his life as a Trappist Monk in a monastery called the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

After his death, his writings remained in the public sphere, but it seemed that little else was left from the man who inspired so many. But this summer, hundreds of his items reappeared in Missouri.

Alex Smith / KCUR

For many Catholics, Pope Francis' visit to the United States provides a thrilling chance to see the church’s highest leader in the flesh. 

But in Kansas City, Kansas, the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center still celebrates and remembers a previous pope’s trip to the United States — specifically how he rested during the trip.

On display is the former air travel bed of Pope John Paul II, which is now classified as a relic.

From the world's fascination with Pope Francis to the rise of ISIS overseas, religion played a significant role in some of the biggest headlines of 2014.

On Wednesday's Up To Date guest host Brian Ellison speaks with Kevin Eckstrom, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service, and Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, executive religion editor of the Huffington Post, on the top religion stories last year, and religion's rising profile in the news. 

In a Mass today at St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a scathing homily that reiterated the Catholic Church's ban on female priests.

He also criticized a group of priests who have called on their colleagues to ignore Rome. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty filed this report for our Newscast unit: