France Notre Dame Fire

Notre Dame cathedral is pictured from the top of the Montparnasse tower, Tuesday April 16, 2019 in Paris. Firefighters declared success Tuesday morning in an over 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The recent fires at three black churches in St. Landry Parish underscored a powerful reality. Though the church buildings were destroyed, the congregations themselves are intact — proof enough that communities of faith are grounded in people, not bricks and mortar.

We thought about that simple fact on Monday as we watched the images from across the Atlantic of Notre Dame in Paris consumed by flames. That ancient cathedral might be far older and grander than the country churches we recently lost in Louisiana, but it’s a gathering place for Christians just the same. Today, the people of Paris are learning once more what is already sustaining the faithful in St. Landry: Though buildings can be reduced to cinders, the resolve of the faithful endures.

We were heartened to hear that so far, at least, the fire that struck Notre Dame is assumed to be accidental, not the work of an arsonist. In St. Landry, a man has been arrested and charged with setting the churches ablaze. It’s terrible to think of someone twisted enough to assault a house of God.

The prospect of yet another monument to human possibility taken down by hatred crossed our minds Monday when we saw Notre Dame eerily glowing from within, like some sinister jack-o’lantern, as crowds of Parisians looked on in despair. We felt a familiar lump in our throats when the cathedral’s tower fell. Here in America, we’ve seen towers fall. The memory of that earlier tragedy, which also unfolded on a flawlessly clear and beautiful day, is a wound that resonates still, all these years after 9/11.

Of course we wondered, watching the spire of Notre Dame collapse, if terrorists had brought about its demise. The news to this point seems otherwise, which is some consolation as Parisians face the hard work of rebuilding an international treasure.

Notre Dame literally translates as “Our Lady,” a common Catholic reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus. For the many Louisianans who look to France as their ancestral home, the old cathedral’s testament to maternal affection chimes neatly with our sense of France as the mother country.

That land of origin for our Francophone state is hurting today, and we grieve with it. Even a freshly restored Notre Dame will never be the same, but then again, despite their appearance of ageless rigidity, cathedrals have always been exercises in evolution, their walls marked by the presence of successive generations.

Here at the doorstep of Easter, we join with people around the world in wishing the swift resurrection of Notre Dame.