My first-ever trip abroad was with a tour group to Paris in 2005. We had a full and glorious itinerary, visiting the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Monet’s Garden, Sacre Coeur, and other famous and not-so-famous-but-still-wonderful sites. Sadly, Notre Dame was not among them.

It was on our original itinerary, but the day we left the States for Paris was the day Pope John Paul II died. In the following days and weeks, Catholic churches around the world – including Notre Dame, of course – were filled to capacity with people mourning his passing. It was impossible for tourists like our group to get inside, so the best we could do was admire it from as close as we were able to get. I vowed then that I would come back to Paris one day, and Notre Dame Cathedral would be one of my first stops.

It hasn’t happened – yet. And although I still hope to go one day, I won’t be able to see Notre Dame. At least, not as it was.

I was on my way to a meeting this past Monday when I first heard about the fire at the cathedral. It was still early and tentative at that point, and the news report said only that there was a fire at or near Notre Dame. That was unsettling enough, but the news was much worse two and a half hours later, when I was driving home from my meeting. At that time, the fire was raging, with hundreds of firefighters fighting to extinguish it.

The fire is out now, and in spite of the devastation – and all that’s been lost that can never be replaced – there is still much to be thankful for, and many signs of hope and inspiration. First and foremost is that no lives were lost, not even the hundreds of thousands of bees living in several hives on the roof of the cathedral.

Miraculously – and I don’t use that word lightly – many of the priceless paintings and relics inside the cathedral were saved. And in a matter of days, over a billion dollars have been pledged to rebuild and restore the cathedral. An international contest is already underway to design and build a new spire to replace the one that was destroyed.

I hesitate to say this because it could so easily be misconstrued, but it gives me a small measure of comfort to know that the cause of the fire appears to have been a computer glitch or electrical short circuit, rather than arson or a terrorist attack. Although the damage is just as severe no matter what the cause, I am breathing a little easier knowing it was an accident or mechanical failure rather than a deliberate, malicious attack.

On this weekend of the holiest day in the Christian calendar, I’m sure many churchgoers – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – will include Notre Dame in their prayers. And as we celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, we can also celebrate the hope and belief that the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral will rise from the ashes and eventually, once again, open her welcoming arms to visitors from around the world.

I intend to be one of them.

April 19, 2019
©Betty Liedtke, 2019

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