PROVIDENCE — Watching the riveting news coverage of the conflagration that consumed hundreds of years of history in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday reinforced for many the importance of cherishing our houses of worship, wherever they may be.
Bill Patenaude, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church, West Warwick, reflected on the devastating fire at the beginning of Holy Week which destroyed the roof and wooden interior of the Gothic cathedral whose construction began on a 4th arrondissement island at the very center of the French capital about 850 years ago.
“After watching everything that happened today I wanted to be here in my cathedral with my bishop,” Patenaude said as he entered the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul to attend the annual Chrism Mass.
The fire captured worldwide attention due to Notre Dame’s revered place in both the secular and religious history of France. Efforts had been underway on much-needed restoration of parts of the cathedral, which had deteriorated with the passage of time.
Despite the haunting images and videos of the destruction captured during the fire, with gasps from stunned onlookers heard as the cathedral’s magnificent wooden spire succumbed to the flames and plummeted from its height of nearly 300 feet through the slate roof below, Patenaude was optimistic that the spire would rise again.
“It’s such an important testament to Western Civilization and to our faith,” he said of Notre Dame.
“The whole point of this Chrism Mass is renewal, so we’ll rebuild it.”
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said that like millions around the globe that day he was deeply saddened to see the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral, an enduring symbol of the faith for so many for so long.
“Like people all over the world I was distressed and really heartbroken,” he said. “It’s a terrible loss for the people of Paris, the people of France and really the whole Catholic world.”
“Our thoughts and our prayers are with those people. We hope and pray that even though the building has been destroyed, their faith will be strong.”
The bishop said that Notre Dame Cathedral, which he had the occasion to visit on a trip to Paris during his years in the seminary in Rome, holds a special place in the hearts of so many because of its long history and renowned architecture and works of art within, as well as its spectacular windows.
“It’s ironic that we’re gathered here tonight in our cathedral in Providence for a very special and blessed occasion, the Chrism Mass, while we’re also thinking about the people in France and Paris who’ve lost their cathedral and all it means for them now,” Bishop Tobin said.
“It’s a place of great historic value and architectural value, but more than that it’s a place of faith and the House of God and the Gate of Heaven. It’s a loss on several levels.”
About 400 firefighters from as far as 50 miles outside Paris responded to the blaze, which triggered a fire alarm at the cathedral at 6:20 p.m., Paris time (12:20 p.m. E.T.).
The fire is believed to have begun in the attic, although investigators are still trying to determine the cause. It burned into the night for about nine hours before being brought under control.
First responders formed a human chain in an effort to rescue as many priceless relics and works of art as possible from the cathedral as the fire burned overhead, such as a relic believed to be part of the crown of thorns placed upon Jesus’ head during his crucifixion.
Early images taken in the night after the fire was knocked down show that Notre Dame’s white marble altar and a gleaming gold cross overhead had withstood the conflagration.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in announcing the start of a national reconstruction fund on Tuesday, praised the “extreme courage and great professionalism” of first responders who helped save the stone facade and towers of Notre Dame, as well as some priceless works within.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, who has visited Notre Dame Cathedral many times over the years, as a student and most recently about three years ago during a trip to France, was saddened by the fire.
“I was devastated because they’ll lose so much artwork, the carved choir stalls, and maybe much of the stained glass window that’s irreplaceable,” he said.
“Whenever I’m in Paris I always spend a lot of time in Notre Dame. It’s close to the heart of the people. People of all faiths have a great respect and a great feeling for Notre Dame.”
Although efforts are already underway to raise funds to restore Notre Dame to its former glory — with the Vatican offering technical restoration assistance, and with some $700 million pledged from donors around the world in the first 24 hours alone following the fire — some things just can’t be replaced.
“They might be able to imitate it but it will never be the same because it’s been there for centuries and centuries. It is really a tragedy,” Bishop Evans said.
On Monday, as the fire ensued, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops showed its solidarity with the Church and people of Paris in their time of crisis.
“The horrific fire that is engulfing the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is shocking and saddens us all, for this particular cathedral is not only a majestic Church, it is also a world treasure,” Archbishop of Galveston-Houston Daniel Dinardo, president of the USCCB, said in a statement.
“Noble in architecture and art, it has long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God. Our hearts go out to the Archbishop and the people of Paris, and we pray for all the people of France, entrusting all to the prayers and intercession of the Mother of God, especially the firefighters battling the fire. We are a people of hope and of the resurrection, and as devastating as this fire is, I know that the faith and love embodied by this magnificent Cathedral will grow stronger in the hearts of all Christians.”