This week, the world watched as the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned. It was an arresting and sad moment. Regardless of one’s cultural or religious background, many people stopped what they were doing to watch this tragedy unfold. I was struck by the news images of people visibly entranced, praying, crying, and singing at the site of the flames. On the video coverage, you could hear the crowd gasp as the spire fell.
Cathedrals were designed to impress the devoted as to the power of God. They were constructed to invoke awe and connote majesty. Notre Dame has been a center of Paris life and is an important symbol of France—a nation with whom we share a commitment to democracy and liberty.
Construction on this historic landmark first started in 1163 CE. In 1239, the Christian relic the “Crown of Thorns” was placed in this space. In this recent fire, a Paris Fire Department chaplain ran in to save this priceless artifact. After the 100 Years War, King Henry VI of England was crowned the King of France at this site. In 1456, Joan of Arc was declared a martyr at Notre Dame. During the French Revolution, the cathedral was desecrated and not fully restored for nearly two decades. It survived the Nazi occupation during WWII. After the recent coordinated, terrorist shootings in Paris, it served as place of community and healing. The history goes on and on. Watching the cathedral burn seemed to encapsulate the immense shift that is happening in our society, wherein hundreds of years of history suddenly give way to accelerated, unadulterated change.
What was uplifting was that, even as the fired burned, people immediately began planning for rebuilding Notre Dame. No doubt, the French will argue about what it will look like, either a historical restoration or something new, but the point is that life continues. This weekend the Jewish faith celebrates the start of Passover, celebrating liberation from slavery and bondage. In Christian traditions, adherents will celebrate Easter, commemorating the resurrection and the promise of everlasting life. Muslims will begin a series of observances leading up to the May start of Ramadan, which marks the revelation of the Qur’an. Human beings are amazing creatures. No matter our faith, we have the ability to find hope in the worst of times.
We all experienced a difficult week, during which we were forced to contemplate the safety and security of loved ones and how our own society seems to have shifted and changed. Just as people will come together after the tragedy in Paris, I know our community will continue to support one another in our collective endeavor of raising children, educating young people, and making the world a better place.