It was in the car somewhere between Santa Barbara and downtown Los Angeles that Bishop Robert E. Barron got the news that the legendary Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris had caught fire. 

Minutes later, he was already doing a phone interview with MSNBC, explaining the Gothic landmark’s significance and his own personal connection to it. 

“It is heartrending,” Barron said in an interview with Angelus News just before the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels April 15. 

As a young priest studying for a doctorate in theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris, Barron spent three years in the French capital and lived blocks away from Notre Dame. He even gave tours of the cathedral to English speakers on Wednesdays. 

“Notre Dame just meant the world to me,” said Barron. “I went there practically every day when I first moved to Paris, so I feel a very personal connection.”

Barron explained that he has a particular attachment to the cathedral’s north rose window, which he calls a “very important and powerful spiritual symbol” for him. 

“I’ve used it in almost all my books, and I talk about it all the time in a spiritual context. These are windows that Saint Thomas Aquinas knew, and Saint Bonaventure knew.”

It was not immediately clear after the fire’s containment which of Notre Dame’s three famous rose windows had survived the blaze intact. 

Barron also noted while the rest of the world mourned the disturbing images, young Parisians were singing hymns to the cathedral’s patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

“I just think of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary accompanying Jesus to the cross — especially on Holy Week: how can you not be moved?”

Nevertheless, Bishop Barron expressed hope that in the same way that the trials of Holy Week lead to the Resurrection, Monday’s tragedy might be an opportunity for God to bring life out of death.  

“I can’t help but think, might it awaken within the French people and the people of Europe a deeper sense of connection to the Christian faith — the faith that made that building possible?” Barron wondered out loud. “Will the loss of it awaken in people a reappreciation of the faith? My hope is yes.”

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