Signs of Hope amid Catastrophic Loss

The near-destruction of Notre-Dame in Paris, one of the great cathedrals of Christendom and a historical site of immense significance not only for France but for world culture, is a catastrophe. It is small consolation that at least some of its great treasures and its twin towers were spared the blaze.

It is even more tragic for Christians given that the fire happened on 15th April, Monday of Holy Week.

Yet, given the tragedy, there were no deaths. A grim realist’s response is the direct, if unsympathetic, response: “It could have been worse. A lot worse.” The fire was contained to the cathedral, quite remarkable given its extent and its close proximity to other buildings around it.

Even more impressive was the way people, Parisians and visitors alike, flocked to Notre-Dame as it burned. Not simply as onlookers but almost in solidarity with a place that has been the heart of Paris for 800 years. Some prayed. Some sang hymns. Some wept openly. Few, I suspect, were parishioners. Many were not even Christian. But they came nonetheless.

Did anyone who watched this on television during this Holy Week feel a certain sense of secular déjà vu? A Good Friday image of a smaller band of people standing at the foot of a cross?

The morning after, an image I came across – one of many pictures that will become iconic I suspect – was of a cross glowing amidst the rubble and smoke. The image, the cross amidst the smoke-blackened walls, reminded me at once of a visit I paid many years ago to the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in England and of something else. In my mind I imagined Golgotha on Holy Saturday.

And almost immediately, while firefighters were still dousing the flames behind him, President Emmanuel Macron vows to Paris, France and the world that Notre-Dame will be rebuilt. Do you hear, like me, a whisper of resurrection?

We mourn the loss of Notre-Dame, a great building of immense historical and cultural significance. But the primary symbol of Notre-Dame – the witness to the Resurrection that is the heart of Christian faith – did not perish on Monday. The people of Paris who stood vigil that night are a powerful reminder to all Christians of what we are about this Easter and every Easter: standing powerlessly beneath the Cross, waiting in a sense of grief and confusion, until we acknowledge Christ’s resurrection.

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Image: Wikimedia

Fr Anthony Egan SJ
B.A. (Hons), M.A. (UCT), B.A. (Hons) (London), M.Div., S.T.L. (Weston), Ph.D. (Wits)

Fr Anthony Egan SJ has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand, where he currently teaches at the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for Spotlight. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
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