Early this week, on Monday morning, Parisians and visitors from around the globe alike watched in horror as the spire of the Notre Dame, one of the world’s most well-known cathedrals, collapsed into the building as flames engulfed its entirety. If you had seen any of the videos circulating social media or the news, you know that it looked like a scene from “The Day After Tomorrow” or “World War Z.” It was apocalyptic.
Although investigations as to the cause are still underway, officials have identified it was merely an electrical mishap — the building, originally built in the 13th century, has been under construction for maintenance. Not only did firefighters work tirelessly to extinguish the fire, but priests made their way inside to salvage relics such as paintings, chests, and statues. Though the fire burned for nearly 12 hours, and physical damage to the infrastructure was great, nobody was severely injured.
The cathedral, an outstanding and beautifully maintained piece of architecture, is, of course, a religious building — a place where men and women convene to worship God. What is interesting is the affect it had on the world. Social media was flooded with commentary, photos of travelers that had visited the structure (both for religious and for tourist activity), and it swept the news…politicians, celebrities — nearly everybody and their momma — had something to say. CBS News quoted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: “Our hearts ached as we watched a devastating fire ravage one of the world’s most sacred and celebrated religious monuments. The Notre Dame Cathedral’s centuries of history, art and iconic architecture are irreplaceable, and we are deeply grateful to the brave first responders who worked diligently to extinguish the flames and save portions of this significant piece of French and Catholic history. New York stands in solidarity with the people of France and Catholics worldwide who are mourning this tremendous loss.”
Why does a building reserved for the worship of God, and, specifically, a gathering place for those that practice Catholicism, garner such worldwide attention — and affection?
Since Monday’s fire, one billion dollars have been raised to support repairs from a wide range of donators — like the POTUS, fashion powerhouses like Chanel and Gucci, tech mega giant Apple, and the publisher of the classic “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The cathedral sees 13 million visitors per year, who come either to take in the beauty of the structure and its stained glass windows, peer at the ancient relics, or praise the Living God.
What is most striking is the attention and, as mentioned, the affection that Notre Dame has received, especially only days after racially-motivated arson burned three black churches to the ground in rural Louisiana (considered a hate crime). Just last month, terrorists attacked Christchurch mosques in New Zealand — immediately prompting the implementation of gun laws. And in 2017, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was devastated by a mass shooting that killed 26 members of its congregation, including the pastor’s daughter.
News stations domestically reported on the tragedies, but why does it seem that those were far less reaching? And why does it seem that so many more were affected? Now, we aren’t at all to say that the fire of Notre Dame was insignificant — the ripple effect of heartache that followed was truly felt worldwide [editor’s note: I, myself, sprang a tear and gasped aloud in watching videos). It was nothing short of a cultural tragedy, its reports both informational and emotionally-driven.
The factors that play into why the news of Notre Dame’s fire was far-reaching, and the aforementioned events were not, are many. But this disconnect begs the question: If fatalities at Notre Dame were none, and a lot of the building and its artifacts were salvaged, what does it say about us as a society? We are quick to jump in to post about our visit to Paris three summers ago — allowing us the opportunity to share a photo of ourselves standing in front of the massive cathedral — but are quick to turn a blind eye, or move on from, tragedy that swallows human lives.
We read about it, watch it, and hear it on the daily. From one corner of the world to another, people are suffering. Sometimes, the news has its way, and sometimes, it doesn’t. For us, for the world, these tragedies call us to stand together in unity, and to really see others for their suffering, so we can see them through it. Notre Dame’s worshippers, its city, and its admirers have been well cared for; imagine what this world would look like if that was our reaction, our declaration, and our fight for the suffering of others?
Satan has his fun in stealing and killing and destroying. But where he is stomped on is in our unity — whatever the tragedy looks like. What would so easily annihilate his schemes would be for us — all of us, from Paris, France, to Paris, Texas — to unify in the wake of tragedy, whether cultural or relational or religious or political. Let us be ones that stand on His Word, as we see in Ephesians 4:2-3: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and Colossians 3:14: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Sophie Sturdevant is the editor in chief of Godly Today, and marketing communications manager for the powerhouse team that is Miller Media Group. She lives in Denver, Colorado, and is called to helping daughters of the King rediscover their identity in Jesus and reclaiming their beauty with a heavenly perspective. She has contributed as a guest writer for The Beloved Rose, Mosaic Community Church, and Julep Beauty, and spends her time painting, drawing, and working on her passion project, wearethedaughters.com. She finds her greatest inspiration in her sisters, both physical and spiritual, and in the creative works of C.S. Lewis. Follow her on Instagram @sophiesturdevant