SOLANA BEACH — On April 15,Father Gerard Lecomte received the tragic news via email: Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire.
Putting aside his work, the French-born Eudist priest tuned in to French television news coverage on his computer.
“I was glued to the screen for one hour, more or less,” the priest, who serves as pastor of St. James Parish in Solana Beach, told The Southern Cross.
Born in Normandy, he had learned about the cathedral from history books as a student. But it wasn’t until 1969 that he saw it in person for the first time. That year, he entered a seminary that was only about 20-25 minutes from Paris by train, and he and his classmates would visit the cathedral often during their seminary years. He estimates that they did so at least every three or four weeks.
Father Lecomte, who has lived and ministered in the United States for 15 years, said he was “in a state of shock” as he watched the beloved structure burning.
Reflecting on the 850-year-old, Gothic style cathedral and the reactions the fire has provoked, he noted that human beings often fail to appreciate the people and things in their lives until they are in danger of losing them. He compared it to how a grandmother might be taken for granted but, when she becomes ill and is hospitalized, her family is reminded just how important she is.
Catholic News Service, citing the BBC’s reporting, said that the fire’s cause was unknown, but that it may have been connected to renovation work then being done on the cathedral. The fire damage included the destruction of the main steeple, which collapsed into the church, CNS reported. CNS also shared the reactions of many prominent figures, both in France and around the world, to the cathedral fire.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted, “Our Lady of Paris in flames. It is emotional for a whole nation. Thoughts for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”
Bishop Eric Moulin-Beaufort of Reims, president of the French bishops’ conference, was ordained in the cathedral. He described the fire as a reminder that “nothing on this earth is made to last forever” and added, “Itis a part of our flesh that is damaged. But I hope this will create a new momentum, a universal movement.”
While describing the fire as “shocking” and something that “saddens us all,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement April 15, “We are a people of hope and of the resurrection, and as devastating as this fire is, I know that the faith and love embodied by this magnificent cathedral will grow stronger in the hearts of all Christians.”
Catholic News Service content contributed to this report.