Notre Dame Cathedral fire a reminder of need for sacred spaces

| April 26, 2019 | 0 Comments

Johan van Parys, director of liturgy and the sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, at the Basilica’s Altar of the Sacred Heart, with a book in which people were invited to write memories and prayers of support to the people of Paris in the wake of that city’s fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral. The book will be sent to Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. MAE DESAIRE | COURTESY BASILICA OF ST. MARY

Johan van Parys, director of liturgy and the sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, realized tears were running down his cheeks as he watched televised coverage of Notre Dame Cathedral burning in Paris.

“I didn’t realize how important that cathedral was to me until I saw the roof on fire,” van Parys said.

“I thought, ‘Why am I reacting like this?’” The answer, he said, is that “the cathedral is a historical icon. It’s been there 800 years.”

“That building is more than a grouping of stones on top of one another,” he added. “It’s an icon of faith.”

Van Parys was not alone in his reaction. People around the world feared the cathedral would be destroyed in the April 15 fire, then were relieved to learn the flames were contained and the church would be restored.

That reaction points to the importance of sacred spaces — churches, basilicas, cathedrals and other places of worship, van Parys said.

Notre Dame, with its imposing French Gothic architecture, sacred relics, and dedication to the Eucharist and other sacraments, carries a particular, unmistakable weight on the faith lives of those who enter, he said.

“Even those who don’t go for a specific religious reason, being in that church, it cannot but speak to them of God,” said van Parys, who grew up in Belgium and has visited the cathedral numerous times as a child and adult.

“I believe that sacred architecture speaks to people of the divine nature,” he said, “and has the power to imprint on them the divine. They may not be able to articulate it, but they will come away from that visit having changed. That’s why it’s important that we build good, sacred buildings.”

The Basilica of St. Mary and the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul carry that kind of weight, van Parys said. Such cathedrals become part of the ebb and flow of the cities in which they are built. They are places to which people gravitate in times of great sorrow and great joy, he said.

“I hope seeing that cathedral in Paris on fire will make us realize, ‘Hey, wait a minute, in the Twin Cities we have a responsibility to care for them as well,” he said.

Both Twin Cities’ cathedrals tolled bells April 16 in support of the people of Paris and France, and the Basilica dedicated that day’s noon Mass to the tragedy. The Basilica also invited people to share memories and prayers in a book set out on a side altar during Holy Week that will be sent to Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit.

Dozens of people filled more than 13 pages of the loose-leaf notebook, some writing in French, many recalling their own visits to Notre Dame.
Several comments echoed van Parys’ reflections on the importance of sacred spaces in people’s lives, including one that reads in part:

“Notre Dame, a crossroads of peace, a place of unity, a welcomer of all, a house of worship.

“Even in a state of ruin, this house remains a house of God, and a beacon of love to the whole of humanity.”

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Category: Local News