Fire gravely damages Notre-Dame: ‘watch, pray, do not be discouraged’

ON MONDAY April 15, 2019, the first day of Holy Week, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was ravaged by a terrible fire. Shortly before 8pm local time, the burning spire collapsed into the nave of the cathedral. The fire, which had broken out around 6.50pm in the timbers of the roof, was overcome by about 3.30am, according to the Paris fire department. Two-thirds of the roof has been destroyed. The historical landmark—the most visited in Europe, welcoming between 12 and 14 million visitors and pilgrims each year—had stood for centuries and survived countless major upheavals, from the French Revolution to World War II. An inquiry into the causes of what is considered an accidental fire has begun.

“The shocking sight of Notre-Dame in flames reminds us of the dramatic reality lived by too many Christians throughout the world,” said Father Yves Genouville, who serves as ecclesial assistant to Aid to the Church in Need-France (ACN-France). He continued: “But at the end of a night of sorrow, a striking image: in the midst of smoke and ash, despite the chaos resulting from the flames, the Cross appears, intact. The glorious Cross of Christ, at the foot of which so many pilgrims have come to leave their prayers—The Cross of Christ, today weighed down, at the foot of which stood Mary, his Mother, Our Lady, to whom the cathedral of the Paris Archdiocese is dedicated.”

The 2019 “Night of Witnesses” at Notre Dame Cathedral; photo by Laurence Mullenders/ACN

As this fire joins the long list of the dramas undergone by the Church in France, Aid to the Church in Need has received messages of compassion from around the world. The Universal Church is united by prayer to the Archdiocese of Paris and to the Church in France.

On March 29, 2019, ACN France held its annual “Night of Witnesses” at Notre Dame. Sister Mona Adhem, from Syria, one of the witnesses that night, wrote: “Our heart is weeping with all of France, and with the Christians around the world; we are praying for you.” Another witness from that evening, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, wrote: “We are praying for you, we are praying for France. We feel your sorrow. Your loss is our loss, your sorrow our sorrow.”

In a statement, the French bishops’ conference invited “Catholics to always remain the living stones of the Church, by living the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, the source of our hope.”

Guided by this hope, as the Easter Triduum draws near, ACN invites all to watch and pray, for the Church in France and for the Universal Church; to watch and pray at the foot of the cross, at the side of Our Lady—and not be discouraged.

—Pierre Macqueron