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The reconstruction of Notre Dame is a symbol of hope

Scaffolding surrounds the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris July 28, 2022. The cathedral, that was heavily damaged by a fire April 15, 2019, will reopen to the public and to worship Dec. 8, 2024. (OSV News photo/Geoffroy Van Der Hassel, pool via Reuters)

By Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

Five years ago, the world watched in collective heartbreak as flames engulfed the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Parisians openly wept in the streets. The bells of French churches rang in mournful solidarity, calling the people of France to pray for the nation’s beloved cathedral.

The April 15, 2019, tragedy transcended borders, uniting the world in a shared sense of loss. For the Catholic Church, Notre Dame is, first and foremost, a place of worship. However, the cathedral also stands as a monument to the church’s indelible and unrivaled contribution to art, architecture and culture. As we mark this somber anniversary, it is also a moment to celebrate the church’s role in nurturing and preserving the cultural and artistic heritage of the West.

Notre Dame de Paris, known everywhere for its Gothic splendor, has been a beacon of faith and inspiration for centuries. The fire, though devastating, sparked a global outpouring of solidarity and generosity, reflecting the value and love for Christian cultural heritage. This unprecedented response underscores the importance of the Catholic Church’s architectural and artistic contributions to society.

Stories of heroism, like that of Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, are stories of hope amid loss. Father Fournier courageously ran into the burning cathedral to preserve first the Blessed Sacrament. With fire pouring like rain from the cathedral’s rafters, he paused and imparted benediction, praying that Jesus would save his church. Father Fournier also saved some of the cathedral’s priceless treasures, including the tunic of St. Louis and the beloved relic of the Crown of Thorns.

And now, five years later, after a momentous reconstruction effort, the cathedral will reopen. The celebration will begin Dec. 7, with the awakening of the cathedral’s newly restored pipe organ, followed by the singing of the “Te Deum” and then solemn Vespers. An octave of Masses will follow, with the first being held on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. “This festive season will be one for all Christian people, of all ages and conditions,” Archbishop Laurent Ulrich, archbishop of Paris, said in a letter announcing the reopening. “The most precarious, the isolated, the forgotten will be at Notre Dame.”

The reconstruction of Notre Dame is a symbol of hope and resilience. It is a testament to what can be achieved when men and women work together, inspired by the beauty and history that the Catholic Church has championed for millennia. This unrivaled event reminds us of the need to celebrate and support the church’s role in cultural and artistic achievements. The efforts to restore the cathedral underscore the church’s enduring legacy as a custodian of cultural treasures that transcend national identities.

In an age where the relevance of the church is often questioned, the collective response to the Notre Dame fire reaffirms the church’s integral role in shaping our cultural and artistic landscapes. It is a vivid reminder that the church’s contributions go far beyond the spiritual realm, enriching our lives with beauty and history and shepherding us to realize that we belong to something greater than ourselves.

The reconstruction and reopening of Notre Dame Cathedral coincides with another notable movement in France. In an era where secular narratives seem to dominate the cultural landscape of Europe, recent reports from France offer a startling counter-narrative. According to the French bishops’ conference, adult baptisms saw a 30% increase from the previous year, with adolescent baptisms also experiencing a sharp rise. These figures represent the highest recorded in over two decades, suggesting a spiritual awakening that defies the prevailing trends of secularization. In fact, since 2001, adult baptisms have been on the rise in France, with more than 78,000 adults receiving the sacrament.

As we reflect on the fifth anniversary of the Notre Dame fire, let us renew our appreciation for the church’s cultural and artistic endeavors. Let this moment serve as a call to recognize and celebrate the church’s contributions to Western civilization. But we must remember, too, that the rebuilding of Notre Dame is more than the restoration of a building; it is a revival of cultural identity and a reaffirmation of the church’s role in nurturing the human spirit through beauty and art. But most importantly, it is a renewal of faith.

As we look forward to the complete restoration of Notre Dame de Paris, let us embrace more moments that celebrate the church for her cultural and artistic achievements, recognizing them as vital expressions of humanity and divine aspiration. And may we pray that souls seeking the true, the good and the beautiful may find these deepest longings of the heart fulfilled in the Catholic Faith.

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, O.P., Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.

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