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Our Lady brings people together in time of crisis

Gretchen R. CroweThe images came forth like rays of light amid all-too-real plumes of smoke and showers of ashes.

Parisians, kneeling outside, holding rosaries and vigil, while singing the Ave Maria. A human chain formed to save the crown of thorns, other relics and other significant items from the treasury.  A golden cross, hanging above the main altar, illuminated even amid darkness and wreckage.

These were just a few of the scenes of hope seen and described just hours after a blaze engulfed the masterful Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris — a blaze that was observed in real time by thousands lining the streets of Paris and millions more around the world.

Thankfully, stunningly, it seems that the worst was avoided. Though the wooden frame burned, the stone structure remains, as do many of the precious items within. As the hours passed and the flames persisted, it seemed that such an outcome was unlikely, if not totally inconceivable. It seems Our Lady would not let her home be destroyed.

I have been blessed to have visited Notre Dame three times: once in April 1991, when I was 9 years old, then again in July 2010, and most recently on my honeymoon in June 2016. It doesn’t get old. Each time my breath was taken away by the grandeur of it all. It embodies a magnificence of architecture and of spirit that is not easily matched.

To be honest, during each visit to Notre Dame, I found it a bit hard not to feel at least slightly overwhelmed. The tall, Gothic structure, the magnificent artwork, the spectacular stained-glass windows, the crowds filing through the side aisles — there is much begging for one’s attention all at the same time. But when Mass begins and the familiar prayers are recited, the overwhelming feeling fades away, and you are home. Amid all of its grandeur, history and prestige, Notre Dame remains a parish church and the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris. As such, in addition to being an iconic structure that attracts 14 million visitors each year, it is a house of worship and a community of faith that brings people together, especially in times of crisis.

We will know more in coming weeks about the extent of the damage at Notre Dame and the time line for restoration. Blessedly, French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to rebuild. And while this process will not be easy or quick, it is enough simply to know that one day Notre Dame will function as both parish and iconic symbol once again. That, God-willing, my children will be able to experience its magnificence with their own eyes. And that the sacraments will again be celebrated within its walls.

If you’re interested in more about the significance of Notre Dame, we are blessed to have noted art historian Elizabeth Lev write in this week’s issue. May Our Lady continue to watch over the city of Paris, the country of France and the Church as a whole.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editorial director for periodicals at Our Sunday Visitor. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.

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