“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
How not to think about this timely gospel passage as we helplessly watch the orange flames rise from the roof above the rose window of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame? On the day after Palm Sunday and the first day of Holy Week, those words are resonating in the minds of so many people in Paris and all over the world tonight.
Notre-Dame is not only the highest symbol of Catholicism in France. It is part of our world heritage. It is the very soul of the French that these flames have wounded. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame made Paris the rightful capital of France. From Nerval to Gustave Doré, Claude Monet, Victor Hugo, Charles Péguy, or even Walt Disney, it has been a muse for the greatest minds of the past 850 years of history. There, on Christmas in 1886, poet and dramatist Paul Claudel had a lightning conversion at the base of the iconic statue of the Virgin with Child, giving rise to a series of literary masterpieces that will make an eternal mark on French heritage.
“The whole French culture, not only religious, is burning tonight. It is the whole history of France which is burning. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is the most emblematic monument of our whole country,” said Catholic French writer Bernard Lecomte while providing comments for various national media.
It is hard not to see in such heartbreaking images a symbol of the deep wounds affecting the Church of France. One month after the arson of historic Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris, while the wave of desecration and vandalism against churches in the country remains unprecedented, such event seems to arouse a vast awareness among the population.
Sadness and incredulity are unanimous. The whole country is weeping, believers as well as non-believers. It is a new proof, if one was needed, of the unifying power of Christian culture through the universality of its beauty and of its message of love.
The songs of the many faithful who gathered tonight near the Cathedral already mix with those of the Holy Week, a few days away from the commemoration of the Passion of Christ.
But as our voices are gathered in a unique song of pain, we must not lose sight of the very essence of the Christian faith. At the approach of Easter, let us connect with renewed strength to the hope of the resurrection of Christ. Let us entrust the Church of France and the whole country to the Lord, as we respond to Notre-Dame Rector Patrick Chauvet’s call to keep faith in the future and become cathedral builders yet again.
Solène Tadié is the Register's Europe Correspondent. Originally from France, she is currently based in Rome, Italy.