Archbishop Hebda calls burning of Notre Dame Cathedral ‘gut-wrenching’

| April 15, 2019 | 0 Comments
Flames and smoke billow from the Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire broke out in Paris April 15, 2019. Officials said the cause was not clear, but that the fire could be linked to renovation work.

Flames and smoke billow from the Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire broke out in Paris April 15. Officials said the cause was not clear, but that the fire could be linked to renovation work. CNS/BENOIT TESSIER, REUTERS

When the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire and erupted into a spectacular blaze April 15 that sent smoke and flames billowing into the sky, Archbishop Bernard Hebda watched video footage of the blaze and called it “gut-wrenching.”

“I’ve been there a good number of times,” the archbishop said. “I was there for the first time when I was 16, and I remember then thinking there couldn’t be a more beautiful church in all of Christendom than Notre Dame. It’s the sculpture, it’s the windows, it’s the woodwork inside.”

As flames engulfed the church starting at 6 p.m. local time, the Associated Press reported that after only an hour, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said firefighters were having trouble containing the “terrible fire.” Ash filled the sky and officials ordered the evacuation of the area surrounding the 850-year-old cathedral.

“It’s such a magnificent structure,” Archbishop Hebda said. “When you think about Paris, you think about Notre Dame. … It’s a place where people of all faiths (have) come together.”

At sunset in Paris, the fire had consumed the upper portion of the cathedral, including the main steeple. Eventually, the steeple collapsed.

Archbishop Hebda said the timing of the blaze during Holy Week makes it all the more painful for Catholics in Paris, who normally would visit the building for liturgies during the Easter Triduum, which was set to start just three days after the blaze began.

“It has to be devastating for the people of Paris, that they won’t be able to use their Cathedral” during Holy Week, he said. “I’m sure they’ll be able to find another space, but because it’s such an important church, that’ll be a real loss for them.”

Archbishop Hebda said he has been to the cathedral about a dozen times, with the last visit taking place about 10 years ago.

“What I really loved the best was going there for Mass,” he said. “On Sunday evenings, they (would) have organ concerts and then it goes right into Mass.”

Le Monde, a daily newspaper in Paris, reported that the fire began in the attic of the cathedral. In 2018, the Archdiocese of Paris began a fundraising campaign to restore the building, which was beginning to crumble. Renovation work was being done at the time of the blaze, and authorities said the work could be linked to the fire, though a cause has not yet been determined.

“It’s such an important building, and it’s so beautiful and it evokes so much history for the Catholic Church in France,” Archbishop Hebda said. “I can’t imagine what the archbishop of Paris must be feeling, or the good Catholics of Paris, either.”

Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

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Category: Local News