An unsettling Holy Week for Parisian Catholics

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An unsettling Holy Week for Parisian Catholics

By Arnaud Bevilacqua and Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner/ la-croix.com

The day after the dramatic fire, the image of the great cross, still intact behind the altar, moved many Catholics.

Moving from despondency to hope, Parisian Catholics during this year's Holy Week, experienced a kind of painful preamble to the Easter celebrations.

Upset by the paralyzing image of the inferno that consumed Notre Dame Cathedral, many felt the need to gather at Saint Sulpice Church, the new rallying point for the Diocese of Paris, on April 16.

From there, they marched to Place Saint Michel for a fervent prayer vigil "in homage to Notre Dame," which still stands on the other side of the Seine.

Organized spontaneously via social media, the initiative attracted many Catholics including a large group of young people.

The success of the event testified to the "trembling" felt by many in the crowd, to use the expression of one participant, Evelyne, 28, who had just returned from a pilgrimage to Chartres where she had meditated on the theme of hope.

Louis, 23, who came with his mother, said he had feared the worst after seeing the cathedral in flames.

"For a while I thought there would be nothing left but a field of ruins," he whispered. "I felt so powerless at that moment."
Cross still stands amid the ashes

Laurène and Alexandra, both parishioners at Saint Germain des Près in Paris' 6th District, initially felt similarly despondent.

Already upset by the repeated sex abuse scandals in the Church, Laurène said she had spent Monday evening "in tears" watching the events unfold on TV.

"God is not responsible for the fire but the question that faces us now is: 'What is he calling us to?'," added Alexandra.

Holy Week's symbolism of the passage from death to resurrection clearly has a particular resonance this year.

The day after the dramatic fire, the image of the great cross, still intact behind the altar, moved many Catholics.

The sight was "worth ever homily put together," commented Versailles priest, Father Pierre-Hervé Grosjean.

Alice, 50, agreed that "the cross emerging from the shadows (was) marvelous."

"I take it as a message from God who wants to encourage us to live out our faith in spite of everything," she emphasized with great conviction.

"It reminds me of Jesus' words: "Destroy this temple and I will raise it again (Jn 2:19)," added her son, Louis, who said he was relieved that the organ and the rose windows had been spared by the flames.

Many spoke of the still-upright cathedral with the respect due to an elderly member of the family.

"At the end of the day, I assimilate it to the whole Church, which is going through a storm at the moment," said Pierre, 21.

"Seeing the cross in Notre Dame, a sign of hope, takes me right back to the Easter message: God triumphs over death," he added.
Living stones

"I interpret the fire as a cry of alarm to help us realize that our Church is not made of stones but that we are living stones," insisted Evelyne.

"Our generation and those of the future will need to rebuild and transmit the faith that gives meaning to these buildings," she continued. "This tragedy is like a childbirth moving from pain to joy."

Fabienne Rebiard, a volunteer with the Saint Genevieve Foundation in the Nanterre Diocese, agreed that the metaphor of "living stones" was highly appropriate.

"It is up to us believers to rebuild the Church – with a capital C – through our prayer, our commitment and our witness," she said.

"I now appreciate the message of Holy Week more clearly," she said. "After death, there is the hope of the resurrection.

"Good may emerge from this tragedy since every fall allows us to rise again. If we have no hope, then we have not understood the Gospel," she said.

The message of Paris' Archbishop Michel Aupetit to the faithful of the diocese, which was published on April 16, offered a similar invitation to action.

"Go and repair my ruined Church," he wrote, referring to the phrase that led to the vocation of St. Francis of Assisi.

It is not just a matter of "rebuilding our cathedral" but of "rebuilding our Church whose face has been so wounded," Archbishop Aupetit suggested.

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 12:55
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