The Effect of Notre Dame on a Practicing Catholic

Notre Dame was on fire. News outlets everywhere covered the tragedy of the loss of nearly thousand-year-old architecture. People mourned the loss of a spire that they had taken pictures of during their trip to Paris. Yes, Notre Dame is an important piece of architecture, but it’s more than just a pretty building. While we can all be saddened by history going up in flames, I think  we need to refocus our grief on those who are hit hardest by the burning of Notre Dame: Catholics.

As a practicing Catholic myself, I have learned about the teachings of the Catholic Church since childhood: what we believe in, why we do what we do, and how we’ve changed. The Church, particularly the physical presence of a church, has always been a comfort to me. No matter where I have moved, there has always been a Catholic church — an anchor of stability, a safe haven. Walking into a Catholic church, you are greeted with overwhelming beauty. Buttresses and pillars and marble carvings —  visual representations of the presence of God. Visual symbols that have now been destroyed.

But what upset me most wasn’t the loss of some adornments as those can simply be rebuilt. What some have begun to realize is that Notre Dame housed priceless artifacts for the Catholic Church. What many don’t know is that every church has relics, with at least one located right under the altar. These relics can range from an item owned by a saint, like a ring, to an actual body part of the saint, like a finger.

Notre Dame was home to some of the most important artifacts for Catholics. It housed Jesus’ crown of thorns, St. Louis’s robes, and a piece of the cross Jesus was nailed to. Now that the fire has been put out, the media has turned some of its attention to these objects. We know the crown is safe as well as the robes and a few other items, but there are so many other articles that, at the time of writing, we don’t know the fate of. The piece of the cross could be lost. A piece that has long connected Catholics to Jesus’ suffering could be gone forever, but people care about not being able to see a spire when they go to France. These objects may not be important to everyone, but I think the world needs a little more empathy and a lot more respect. Knowing how important and irreplaceable these items are, I was heartbroken and frankly offended that The Onion published an article ridiculing the bravery of a priest that ran back into the burning cathedral in order to save the crown of thorns. Humor is needed in times of tragedy, but that was not the way to do it.

I am more than just sad, though. I’m scared. What a lot of non-Catholics don’t realize is just how strong anti-Catholic sentiment is in America and across the world. These little digs at something so dear to me are hidden in popular culture, history, and legislature. Did you know that the hokey pokey is a song and dance that makes fun of Holy Communion? Did you know that supremacy groups also targeted Catholics? Did you know policies in the South were created to negatively affect Catholics? Again, everyone has focused on Notre Dame (which makes sense since it’s a tourist attraction and point of French pride), but people often forget that a number of Catholic churches have been vandalized, burned, and defaced in France itself. Given the number and severity of these other attacks, I can’t help but wonder if this fire was an accident. That’s an awful thing to think about, to think anti-Catholic sentiments have intensified, and worst of all, to think that maybe no one else cares. I’ll be studying abroad next semester in London, and had planned to travel to France while I was there. While I’m not a person who hides their faith but, in fact, wears it proudly, I am worried. I never thought that I would have to worry about going to church.

There are lots of reasons to mourn Notre Dame. We will miss its original beauty, the piece of history that has been scorched. But what I will miss most are the reminders of my faith that I never got to see and the sense of security I once had. Regardless of what we physically lost, we should all come together and be concerned for the people affected most by this recent horror. Instead of saying the greatest tragedy was some burned wood, let’s think of the people that were at Mass when the fire happened. Let’s think of the people that were devastated upon seeing their church burn at the beginning of Holy Week. We can mourn the loss of beauty, but we need to refocus on what that loss means to Catholics.