Like many around the world, I found it heartbreaking to see Paris’s famous Notre Dame Cathedral being engulfed by flames in a near catastrophic fire April 15.
To see that iconic cathedral – immortalized in Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" – being smothered by billowing smoke and angry fire was shocking and horrific.
In these couple of days since that sad fire, I have thought much about why the devastation of this church – which I have never visited and was never really on my bucket list of “must-see” places – has caused me so much sorrow.
I think I have figured it out.
Notre Dame has for more than 850 years been part of the patrimony of the Catholic Church. It is located in Paris for sure, but it is a treasure that belongs to all of us who share the faith. The loss is personal because we have an intimate connection with the people who worship there, with the sacraments that are administered there and with the faith that is celebrated there.
Because it is a place of Catholic worship, we look at the cathedral as our home, even if we have never once stepped foot in it. As a matter of fact, Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris also has asked "people of goodwill" around the world to place a light or a candle in their window as a sign “for all of us to manifest our unity, our fervor and our confidence in the future. We feel well that we will not only have to rebuild our cathedral but also reconstruct our Church whose face is so wounded."
As we still calculate the loss and destruction caused by the fire, we can see glimmers of God’s loving goodness. Consider this: more than 400 firefighters fought the blaze for more than 15 hours, and no one was killed. Also, despite the cathedral’s roof collapsing, some its priceless artifacts – what is believed to be the Jesus’s crown of thorns and a relic of the true cross, the main altar and gold crucifix, a tunic belonging to St. Louis, the treasured stained glass Rose windows and the magnificent great organ – were saved.
Even if those precious objects were destroyed and even if the cathedral was razed, the Church would still exist. Look at the countless faithful who spontaneously gathered near their beloved church on flames to sing and pray and reaffirm their faith in God and their trust in the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
The church – that’s with a little “c” meaning a building – may have been consumed by fire, but the Church – that’s with a capital “C” meaning the people of faith – was on fire with trust that He who is “seated on the throne” promises us, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
Notre Dame will be rebuilt. It is impossible not to connect this fire with the holy events we are celebrating this week. Easter is about resurrection. It is the story of rebirth after death, of a mighty God who is “making all things new.” Notre Dame Cathedral will rise out of the ashes and it will again be a place where God will be honored, adored exalted and praised.