Most Americans think of April 15 as tax deadline day. I know I do. At least I used to. But no more. After the tragedy on the Seine, the world might see that date as the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
The week began unlike most Sundays. Mass, as usual, only this time it was with blessed palms. After all, it was Palm Sunday, the beginning if the holiest week on the Christian calendar, and it continued into Monday when I heard the news.
'Notre Dame is ablaze,' the closed caption on CNN read.
Thinking it was the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., my first thoughts were, 'Oh no. Not the Golden Dome?' Not 'Touchdown Jesus?'
Then, in the split of a second, the announcer cleared up the matter when he said, “All of Paris, all of France and all the world is devastated.” In that instant, like so many others, I, too, became glued to the TV watching in silent horror as flames swept through the centuries old symbol of early Christianity, engulfing its iconic steeple, with moisture falling from many red eyes as the tower came crashing through the roof in this almost unspeakable tragedy.
Built in the mid twelfth century, the 856-year-old Cathedral of Notre Dame is located on an island in the Seine. It is known as Paris Point Zero and marks the spot as the geographical center of Paris.
If you think this has nothing to do with Portage Lakes, think again. Like Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination or 9/11, it stays with you all the years of your life regardless of where you call home.
This disaster affects the art world with its priceless stained glass windows and gargoyle statues, the architecture world with its French Gothic design, the world of history, not only of France but of Catholicism, too, the history of humanity, the history of fact and fiction, including Quasimodo, the fictitious bell ringer in Victor Hugo's beloved 19th century classic, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” All must be weeping.
A "long and complex investigation" into the origin of the fire will be conducted, according to Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz, but for now, it is being considered an accident possibly related to ongoing restoration work at the cathedral. Nevertheless, conspiracy theories have begun long before the charred ruins even had a chance to cool.
An eye-catching query put forward by one was, with all the billions of dollars the Roman Catholic Church has, why are they asking for money? Why don't they rebuild it.
Well, because Notre Dame de Paris is not owned by the Roman Catholic Church. Under a 1905 law, Notre-Dame is one of 70 churches in Paris built before that year which are owned by the French state. While the building itself is owned by the state, the Catholic Church is the designated beneficiary, having the exclusive right to use it for religious purposes in perpetuity. The archdiocese stands responsible for employees' salaries, security, heating and cleaning, and for ensuring that the cathedral is open free to visitors. The archdiocese does not receive subsidies from the French state.
On behalf of the French government and the French people themselves, promises to rebuild the landmark, even before the fire had been extinguished, began with French President Emmanuel Macron. That same Monday evening he announced an international fundraising effort to pay for reconstruction, declaring that they will rebuild Notre Dame, because that is what the French expect.
The next morning a photo appeared on the Internet and newspapers around the world. There gleaming through all the smoke and haze was a plain, gold colored, gilded cross. Shining on it was a beam of sun; a symbol of hope following this unspeakable tragedy.
As of that afternoon, millions of dollars in small donations have poured in to fund the project via multiple French and American charities, including more than 100 million euros from French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault, husband of actress Salma Hayek. Latest reports are that it is fast approaching one billion dollars.
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