'It was horrible,' Benjamin Poussard said, as he watched flames engulf the roof of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, the most-visited tourist attraction in the heart of Paris. 'People from all over Paris were converged on bridges, watching the smoke rise.'
A member of the Paris Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Poussard lives mere blocks from Notre Dame and said he could feel the heat from the flames as he stood some 200 yards away from the Catholic cathedral while snapping photos to send to the French media.
Poussard described, 'I passed people crying in the streets. And I personally cried when I sent my pictures to the press,' Poussard said, his voice becoming strained with emotion. 'That island is where Paris was born. It is the cradle of Paris.'
A Symbol of Faith and Love for Jesus
Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, who was born in Bordeaux, France, stated: “It is an iconic edifice that testifies to the extraordinary faith and dedication of those who built it. It has been at the heart of the French history and culture for eight centuries, and all French people embrace it as their own whatever their religious beliefs.”
Bishop Caussé and his wife, Sister Valérie Caussé, who have lived previously in Paris, were in the Boston airport when they received a message from their daughter-in-law in Paris saying Notre Dame was on fire. Bishop Caussé explained, “We immediately connected to the French news. First we had a hard time believing what we saw, then when we realized it was all real, our hearts broke and we couldn’t help but feel sad, extremely sad.”
Sister Caussé said her thoughts immediately turned “to the faith of those who dedicated their lives to building this magnificent house of worship. My heart also turns toward my grandparents who transmitted to my generation their pure faith and love for Jesus Christ.”
The cathedral, which has a history of more than 850 years, is perhaps one of the most important historical monuments for all of France, said Father Brien McCarthy, a Catholic priest who presides over L'église de la Madeleine, which stands several blocks northwest of the Île de la Cité. With around 14 million tourists frequenting the cathedral each year, Father McCarthy described how he loves witnessing a change in people who visit it, even if they aren't religious.
Father McCarthy explained, 'There is something about the brick and mortar stones, placed there by believing people, that can communicate to people. They know they are on holy ground, and it's not because the place is holy, but because it is made holy by the faith of the people there.'
A Holy Week of Hope in Christ’s Resurrection
The fire, which is believed to have been caused by ongoing construction to restore parts of the cathedral's roof, began shortly before 7:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15. “It was a sad and unfortunate event, said Father McCarthy.
He added, however, that if it had to happen, he couldn't imagine it happening at a better time. The fire began on the Monday of Holy Week, a week in which Christians celebrate the life of the Savior, leading up to Easter Sunday and commemoration of His resurrection. Father McCarthy went on to explain: 'If there is a moment when Christians should be ready to mourn the death of something, but to believe in the resurrection of something, it's Holy Week. It is my belief that something is going to rise from these ashes.”
By tradition, each year some 600 priests from all over Paris assemble together with the Archbishop of Paris at Notre Dame and gather around the altar there to celebrate the Eucharist, or the sacrament of Christ. But, due to the catastrophic fire, this year on Wednesday of Holy Week, the priests of Paris will have to assemble somewhere new.
Describing the reactions of several priests from the area, Father McCarthy noted, 'We were all blown over by these events, but I know that it doesn't shake our faith. No matter how old or ancient your faith is, it can take a hit sometimes and we have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the same way, even when we see catastrophe in our own lives. In the end, it's just a building, but on the other hand, buildings become sacred by the people who assemble in them.'
Reactions from Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Expressing his condolences for all those feeling the loss of Notre Dame, Bishop John I. Hall, who leads the Paris Ward with its meetinghouse located only blocks north of the scene of Monday's fire, said, “Notre Dame is the heart of the city so it's really tragic to see it, but we feel a unity to all Christian faiths through it. It's a sad day to see this happening, but I have every faith that people will come together around this and rebuild and help bring it back to its glory.”
President Paul J. Sorensen, president of the France Paris Mission, reported that missionaries from around Paris spent the evening calling in to confirm their safety following the tragic fire and that by around 10:00 p.m. all missionaries were confirmed safe. Missionaries expressed their sadness at witnessing the destruction of such an important international icon of faith. Many of the missionaries in the area have spent time near the cathedral while working together with their Catholic brothers and sisters to serve the people of the community.
“Notre Dame belongs to all of us,” said Bishop Caussé. 'I would like to tell my brothers and sisters of the Catholic faith that … we stand all around them to support them and sustain them in rebuilding this beautiful place.'
Bishop Caussé added that members of the Church experienced a similar loss in recent years when the historic Provo Tabernacle caught fire 'But we experienced a beautiful rebirth into a temple. So I just hope that will happen in the same way; that our brothers [and sisters] of the Catholic faith will see that beautiful building being reborn and becoming again a house of worship for thousands of people.'
Bishop Caussé concluded that the fire at Notre Dame “is a tragic loss beyond words that all French people and millions of others around the world will feel deep in their heart. Reconstruction will be long and complex, but I have no doubt Notre Dame will one day rise from the ashes.”