From the Ashes: Notre Dame and St. Landry's

As most people around the world know, on the evening of Monday, April 15, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, was ravaged by fire that shocked and devastated Parisians, tourists, and the world. While firefighters managed to save the building and much of the historic artifacts and priceless art in the beloved Gothic cathedral built in the 12th and 13th centuries, two thirds of the roof was destroyed and the iconic 295 foot spire broke off. According to The New York Times, “The crowd gasped and cried in horror when the spire fell,” and one man, Pierre-Eric Trimovillas, cried, “Paris is beheaded.”

Fundraising for reconstruction is underway and $1 billion has already been raised. Stephane Bern, who leads renovations of historic French sites, believes that the church needs $1.13 billion to $2.3 billion to rebuild. President Emmanuel Macron declared that Notre Dame will be rebuilt and restored within the next five years, although this may be a lofty goal. Architects predict this may take decades, instead. Still, the call to urgency makes sense seeing as Notre Dame is a huge tourist attraction for France. As Aime Cougoureux, a Parisian restaurant owner, stated, "The tourists love it [Notre Dame], too, especially Americans. When there are no Americans in Paris, it's an economic crisis."

This $1 billion price tag has not been without controversy, of course. Much of the money raised has been donated by large, wealthy corporations and billionaires like Francois Henri Pinault and Bernard Arnault, two French billionaires pledging $100 million each. This has raised some eyebrows both in France and across the Atlantic. France is in the middle of a Yellow Jacket crisis. For five months, French protesters wearing yellow jackets and vests have protested in the streets of France, many being arrested, over blatant income and wealth inequality. These protests have increased since the fire at the Notre Dame because as Phillipe Martinez, head of the CGT trade union puts it, “If they can give tens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, then they should stop telling us there is no money to help with the social emergency.” The protestors and the general consensus in the U.S. and France is that while the fire at Notre Dame is tragic and money does need to be raised to restore Notre Dame, the idea that so much money can be raised so quickly for a building rather than people is hard to swallow.

While certainly, everyone, including billionaires, are under no obligation to donate their money to one cause or another and in the midst of the Notre Dame tragedy there is a silver lining that so many of the world’s wealthiest have stepped up to pay for the necessary repairs, a question must be raised about the moral obligation to share immense wealth to causes that don’t receive global and political recognition, granting the donor social clout.

Debates have broken out across the internet raising this exact point, and although internet debates often end with little more than increased recognition, the increased recognition this time turned into two million dollars.

In Opelousas, Louisiana, on March 26, a historically black church in the St. Landry’s Parish was burnt down and within the next 10 days, two more historically black churches in this parish were burnt down. Holden Matthews, son of a deputy sheriff, allegedly burnt down theses churches and has been charged with arson and hate crimes.

(Leslie Westbrook/The Advocate via AP, File) (LESLIE WESTBROOK)

Megan Romer, a writer from Lafayette, L.A., tweeted the need to support the St. Landry’s churches after the Notre Dame fire and the wave of donations that followed. Romer stated, “My heart is broken over the loss of Notre Dame. The Catholic Church is also one of the world’s wealthiest entities. If you are going to donate money to rebuild a church this week, I implore you to make it the black churches in St. Landry Parish.” Over the next few days her tweet quickly went viral after being shared by Hillary Clinton, CNN anchor Jake Tapper, and journalist Yashar Ali.

While the St. Landry Parish churches might not have same recognition as the Notre Dame Cathedral, in their own right they maintain historical significance. They are home to the final resting place of many people born enslaved, and they have significance and deep meaning to the people in the Opelousas community.

By April 18, donations from over 35,000 different people from around the world managed to raise $1.8 million, enough to rebuild the churches. This success in the face of tragedy in Paris and in Opelousas goes to show the power of not just social media, but also humanity.