Barbara Bradley Hagerty

The Mile High Gliding facility at the Boulder Airport in Colorado is one of Carol Fiore's favorite haunts. And it's a perfect day for flying: clear, breezy and with a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains.

Fiore used to fly gliders regularly, but a few years ago she stopped. Flying them had become painful.

"I felt, in a way, that I was searching for something that wasn't there," Fiore says. "I was looking for that laughter and that incredible time that I had flying with Eric, and he wasn't in the plane with me. I was by myself."

Fifty years ago, Pope John XXIII launched a revolution in the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council opened on Oct. 11, 1962, with the goal of bringing the church into the modern world. Catholics could now hear the Mass in their local language. Laypeople could take leadership roles in the church. And the church opened conversations with other faiths.

For American nuns, Vatican II brought freedoms and controversies that are playing out today.

Religion used to be everywhere in the presidential elections. George W. Bush courted conservative believers in 2004. In 2008, Sarah Palin excited evangelicals and — unexpectedly — so did Barack Obama.

What a difference a few years make. In 2007, then-candidate Obama used evangelical language to describe his Christian conversion: He was a young, secular community organizer who occasionally visited the local Chicago church, when one day he walked to the front of the sanctuary and knelt before the cross.

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