French Catholics on Sunday celebrated Easter mass in Paris in the shadow of the badly burned Notre-Dame Cathedral, praying that the landmark monument – and along with it the entire Catholic Church – can be renewed.
The fire at Notre-Dame six days earlier destroyed the cathedral’s spire and two-thirds of its roof. The damaged building is now to be closed for years to visits and worship.
Deprived of access to Notre-Dame, regular worshippers instead lined up patiently to celebrate Easter Sunday mass a short walk away, on the Right Bank of the Seine at Saint-Eustache church.
Throughout, the service was pervaded by the spirit and hope of a fresh start, infused by the Easter celebrations commemorating the resurrection of Christ according to the Bible.
The flames that devastated the cathedral were a “sign” said worshipper Marie Fliedel, 59, adding that she now felt a “renewal, a communion and a spirit”.
“I hope Christians react and take note of all that is taking place in this sad period and that this will bring us back together,” she said.
“This will recreate unity among Catholics. In misfortune, the fire will give strength to find ourselves again and defend our religion,” added Francois Toriello, 70.
The Catholic Church worldwide has been hit by a series of sexual abuses scandals, including in France where French cardinal Philippe Barbarin was handed a six-month suspended jail sentence last month for failing to report sex abuse by a priest under his authority.
Another sombre mark came from the series of devastating bomb blasts that ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing more than 200 people, including dozens of foreigners.
‘Courage, knowledge and prayers’
The Saint-Eustache service, also attended by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, was led by Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit who thanked the capital’s fire brigade for saving the cathedral from an even worse fate.
“When, for a moment, we thought that the bell towers could also fall, these towers that are so well known throughout the would, courage and knowledge came together with the prayers of all the faithful,” he told members of the fire service, several of whom were present in the front pews.
Laurence Mahoudeau, 55, who had come with her husband to celebrate the mass, said she had her doubts over whether the fire would prompt major change in the Catholic Church.
“Notre-Dame is something that goes beyond our religion, it’s historic, it is our heritage,” she said.
“I don’t know if this will prompt a renewal. There needs to be time. We want a strong Church. But it must be something completely different after the suffering and the sexual abuse.”