“You can see already a kind of spontaneous renewal of piety. You see people singing in the streets. You see them praying. It’s probably going to bring them back to Church. I expect that, this Easter, churches in Paris will be jam-packed as people mourn not just the crucifixion of Jesus but also the loss of so much of the Cathedral.” - Theology Prof. Candida Moss, University of Birmingham in Great Britain on “CBS This Morning”
The professor called it. This is one Catholic, whose plans for Easter Sunday were unexpectedly changed by the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral. A tragedy nearly 6,000 miles away prompts me to do something I haven’t done in nearly a year: go to Mass.
In stormy weather, I’ve sought refuge in the Church. But now my wife and I — who didn’t go to Mass growing up but made an effort to take our children to services, put them in Sunday school, and bring them to Catholicism — are taking refuge from the Church.
The reason: The revolting and heartbreaking drip-drip of the child sex abuse scandal, which has — for more than 15 years - turned out to be like a sewer that has no bottom.
As is usually the case with scandals, the cover-up often seems worse than the crime. The bylines change from one U.S. city to another, but the stories never go away. And every time another outbreak of this virus is reported, it is for me — and for other Catholics I’ve spoken to — like a dagger in the heart.
In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury issued a scathing report accusing high-level officials of the Catholic Church in the state of covering up child sex abuse by more than 300 priests over several decades by persuading victims not to report abuse and authorities not to investigate allegations. The alleged abuse is grotesque. The report identified more than 1,000 victims, but said that there are likely thousands of others.
My wife is disgusted and engaged; and as a Latina, and a mother, she rages well. For me, it’s about accountability. If any corporation sustained this kind of damage to its brand, it would be out of business.
Anyway, we were out. But the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral pulled us back in. At least it did for me.
We’ve heard about the history, architecture, and religious significance of Our Lady in Paris — which I’ve been blessed to see with my own eyes. We’ve been told that the Notre-Dame Cathedral is much more than a tourist attraction that attracts more than 13 million visitors annually, or a majestic museum that houses priceless religious artifacts, or even a beautiful and serene place of worship where people speak to God.
Professor Moss called the Cathedral the “beating heart of Catholicism in France.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said it “represents what is most inspirational about the human project.” A young Parisian woman standing near the Seine River told a reporter that it was “the symbol of France, the symbol of generations.” A French official described it as nothing less than “part of our identity.”
You would think that such a special place would have no trouble being kept up, renovated and preserved. And yet, the current $6.8 million renovation project — which may have caused the fire, due to an electrical short-circuit, French officials believe — almost didn’t happen.
Too many Catholics have been too lax about preserving even the most important symbols of our faith.
That may have changed this week. Donations totaling more than $1 billion are pouring in to restore and rebuild Notre-Dame. The charity is fueled not just by love and faith but also by pain. For many Catholics around the world, the tears started to flow on Monday while the embers were still burning.
A college professor from the United States who is gay and on sabbatical in Paris told CNN that the sight that finally caused his partner to break down was watching the spire — which was added to the 850-year-old Cathedral during a 19thCentury renovation — crumble like papier mâché and fall to the ground.
My story is different. My tear ducts usually burst open when I think, talk, or write about my family, my country or my God — that is, things that make me feel small. But in this case, even as I sat horrified by the television footage of Notre-Dame ablaze — mesmerized as an entire forest of 1300 oak trees that made up the structure’s roof and ceiling went up in smoke — I shed no tears.
That changed four days later, as I tried to put into words what I was feeling about the tragedy. I thought about how my God and my faith had — through the vehicle of the Catholic Church — rescued me at those moments when life tried with all her might to break me. And I sobbed. I knew it was time to return the favor.
And so, I’m going to Easter Mass. See you there.
Ruben Navarrette — a contributing editor to Angelus News — is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a Daily Beast columnist, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano,” and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”
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