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Archbishop of Paris reasserts that Notre Dame’s sole purpose is divine worship


Karine Perret | POOL | AFP

John Burger - published on 06/18/19

The reason the famous cathedral was built was man's search for God, Aupetit says.

Paris’ Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was severely damaged in an April 15 fire, was originally built for the worship of God.

Seems obvious, right?

But Archbishop Michel Aupetit felt a need to make that point, as donations continue to come in for the cathedral’s rebuilding, along with ideas about how it should be rebuilt.

French President Emmanuel Macron has insisted that Notre Dame would be rebuilt and reopened in time for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. That plan and his suggestion to replace Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century spire with a modern incarnation have drawn criticism from the public and experts, National Public Radio said.

But the French Senate voted last month that Notre Dame must be restored exactly as it was.

Some 850 million euros have been pledged for the cathedral’s repairs, of which about 80 million have been collected so far, French minister of culture Franck Riester said. Some Catholics have expressed concern that since large pledges have come from groups that are not Catholic, that concessions would have to be made in the rebuilding and day-to-day management of the cathedral to accommodate non-religious causes.

But Notre Dame is more than a national heritage monument, Archbishop Aupetit said Saturday, while celebrating the first Mass in the iconic church since the fire. The Mass was celebrated in the Chapel of the Virgin to mark the anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral’s altar, an event that usually takes place June 16 each year, Catholic News Service said. About 30 persons joined the archbishop—mostly clergy, cathedral employees and building contractors. All had to wear hard hats, as there is still a danger of debris falling.

Riester said Friday that the cathedral was still “in a fragile state,” noting that the vault had not been secured and could still collapse.

The reason Notre Dame was built some 850 years ago, said Archbishop Aupetit in a homily, was to show man’s impetus towards God.

“The cathedral is born of the faith of our ancestors. She shows confidence in the goodness of Christ, her love stronger than hatred, her life stronger than death and the tenderness of our parents for the Virgin Mary,” he said. “This cathedral is born of the Christian hope which perceives well beyond a small self-centered personal life to enter a magnificent project at the service of all, projecting well beyond a single generation.”

Archbishop Aupetit challenged French Catholics, saying, “Are we ashamed of the faith of our ancestors? Are we ashamed of Christ?”

To remove the cornerstone that is Christ Himself would leave the cathedral “an empty shell, a case without jewelry, a skeleton without life, a body without a soul.”

To be a place of worship is Notre Dame’s sole purpose, he said. The edifice cannot even be considered a “tourist attraction,” as visitors, even those who consider themselves tourists, are really seekers.

“There are no tourists in Notre Dame, because this term is often pejorative and does not do justice to this mystery which pushes humanity to come to seek something beyond itself,” he said. “This cultural good, this spiritual wealth, cannot be reduced to a patrimonial good.

“A culture without worship becomes a non-culture,” he continued, pointing to the “abyssal religious ignorance of our contemporaries because of the exclusion of the divine notion and the very name of God in the public sphere by invoking a secularism that excludes any visible spiritual dimension.”

The cornerstone of Notre Dame is Christ Himself, he said, and “if we removed this stone, this cathedral would collapse. It would be an empty shell, a case without jewelry, a skeleton without life, a body without a soul.”

Light streamed through stained glass windows, and there was apparently no damage to them, but “much of the cathedral’s fragile glass has been removed and its window frames bolstered by wooden supports,” the Tablet reported. KTO, the diocesan television channel that broadcast the Mass, showed charred debris piled up in the nave and ash still lying on the floor at the transept crossing.

At the end of the Mass, Msgr. Pascal Gollnisch, head of the l’Œuvre d’Orient association aiding Middle Eastern Christians, presented to Aupetit a cross sent by Syrian Christians for Notre Dame. It was carved from stones from the destroyed Maronite cathedral of Aleppo.

Under French law, all churches built before 1905 are national heritage buildings and therefore public property, according to Religion News Service:

Local authorities are responsible for the upkeep of churches in their areas, while cathedrals belong to the state, a provision that gives national politicians a voice on issues such as expenditures for rebuilding Notre Dame

Notre Dame
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