“Mary, dry our tears:” French priests respond to Notre-Dame blaze

by Courtney Grogan | Catholic News Agency

Catholic News Agency

Father Pierre Amar was praying in Notre-Dame de Paris at 5 p.m. April 15 to prepare spiritually for the Easter Triduum. Hours later he was ringing the “funeral bells” at his parish to mourn the flames consuming the “mother of all the cathedrals in France.”

“The Cathedral of Notre-Dame has a particular place in our hearts and in our history,” Father Amar told CNA April 16. “It is hard to find my words because the emotion is so great. This morning at Mass, we prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary ‘Mary, dry our tears.’ We are so sad; France is mourning its cathedral.”

Father Joseph Koczera was having dinner in Paris with fellow priests when he heard the news.

“We were all in shock,” he said. “We all felt a sense of despair, seeing images of the cathedral in flames and fearing that it would be completely destroyed.”

“I walked down to the Île de la Cité to join the many Parisians who were there watching the cathedral burn. What struck me when I arrived was the atmosphere of prayer and reflection: many were singing the Ave Maria in French, and many were kneeling in prayer,” said Koczera, an American priest based in Paris. “Some were crying, but there was a palpable sense of Christian hope, a sense that this beloved church would be saved and would experience a kind of physical resurrection.”

While greatly damaged, the main structure of Notre-Dame, including much of its interior vaulted ceiling remained intact as firefighters worked late into the night to put out the flames. Originally built between the 12th and 14th centuries, the cathedral is one of the most recognizable churches in the world, receiving more than 12 million visitors each year.

“I think it's difficult to sum up the importance of Notre-Dame de Paris in just a few words. It's not just a tourist attraction; it's a place of prayer, where ordinary people from all walks of life go each day for Mass or confession or simply to pray privately,” Father Koczera explained.

Each of the priests commented that the Notre-Dame fire has encouraged a greater sense of unity throughout the country.

“Notre-Dame de Paris remains a potent national symbol for many French people, whether they are religious believers or not. It is telling that, in the hours after the fire started, political leaders and public figures from left to right and across the ideological spectrum were unanimous in declaring that the cathedral should be rebuilt and that no expense should be spared to make that happen,” Father Koczera commented. “It seems that Notre-Dame de Paris remains a symbol that the people of France can unite around, regardless of their personal beliefs.”

Father Amar said that the event caused fellow countrymen to “discover our unity and human fraternity” at a time when the “climate in France is not so peaceful.”