Notre Dame is Burning

By The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie, Rector of Christ Church, Greenwich

Flames are still devouring large portions of one of the world’s greatest buildings as the fate of Notre Dame hangs in the balance and French firefighters struggle to save the cathedral towers after the iconic spire collapsed.  Like millions around the world, I have visited Notre Dame, not just once but many times – most often while I was living in Paris on $3 a day after college.

The cathedral doors were open and entrance was free.  Notre Dame transforms anyone who steps inside or even walks around it.  It is one of France’s grandest gothic buildings; but has the feel of a worldwide possession, a cultural treasure and heritage that belongs to all of us.

The Christ Church Greenwich Choristers have travelled twice to France to sing inside Notre Dame’s hallowed walls, which have withstood military conquests, the French Revolution, previous fires and the Nazi invasion.  The German Luftwaffe nearly bombed Paris to bits, but held off at the last moment after the American ambassador worked all night negotiating to ensure that did not happen.  Now a fire may do what was previously unthinkable, what nothing else has done before.

I served a church that nearly burned to the ground on my birthday after lightning hit it during a thunderstorm.  Like Notre Dame, the fire started slowly in the roof and was raging by the time it was discovered.  There are few sadder things on earth than watching a church or cathedral burn.  Even those who claim no religious affiliation sense something tragic when a sacred site may be destroyed.

This is Holy Week.  A time when two billion people around the world gather to retell the story of how Jesus perished not through flame but through trial, violence and suffering.  On Easter, Christians will celebrate how God can take the worst of things and transform them into the best of things.  We can all hope and pray that out of the ashes a phoenix will rise; hope and pray that Notre Dame will continue to carry out its sacred mission and bring beauty, tranquility, worship, and spirit to a world that so greatly needs unity, harmony, peace, and hope.

Publisher’s note: The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie’s full piece on this topic will appear in the Greenwich Sentinel this week.

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