Alliance News Feed – Notre Dame: The Heart of France on Fire

by Dan Lawrence, an Alliance international worker serving in Paris, France

As one who lives in Paris, I can’t even begin to explain how heartbreaking the recent events are for this city.

Paris was birthed more than 2,000 years ago out of a small island in the middle of the Seine River. That island is still the very center of the city and on it has stood Notre Dame since 1163. This place is physically and emotionally the heart of the city. For centuries, it has been where the city comes to gather—it’s the symbol of this community.

As word of the fire quickly spread on Monday, people everywhere stopped. A collective lump formed in our throats as we looked on in disbelief. People gathered around screens in every café, paralyzed by astonishment. How could this be happening?

Notre Dame burning on Monday, April 15 (Photo courtesy of Dan Lawrence)

Immediately you knew you would be asked years from now, “Where were you the day Notre Dame burned?”—and you would remember. As the heart of the city burned, the hearts of its people broke. This monument that we walk by several times a week is so much more than just stones—it is history, art, relics, culture, and identity.

That night the city was quiet, only sirens. As the sun went down the glow of the flames still rose. People gathered to mourn as close to the church as the police would allow. By the light of phones, people looked for the lyrics to songs they once knew to join a makeshift choir that had formed.

Some people kneeled in the streets to pray. The sound of crying was all around. However, most people were silent, unsure of what they were feeling.  It was as if someone had died.

The Day After . . .

As the ashes of the old church settled, so did the Parisians. As life continued, people walked around stunned. There was a subtle, silent recognition of what we were going through together. Underneath it all, people anxiously awaited news of the church’s fate.

That day, a picture began rapidly circulating of the inside of Notre Dame. It showed that the cross on the alter still stood. People around the world took this as a sign—the cross still stands among the ashes.  As interior images appeared, we began to hear one word over and over—hope.

I asked a good French friend of ours, Mary*, what this all meant to her. “This is not just a symbol of Paris—it’s a symbol of France,” she replied. “People from all around the word have been affected. Everyone has a relationship with Notre Dame.”

Mary then went on to say something that is very revealing about the culture here—“I’m not a believer, so this is not about religion at all to me, and for our country this is not about religion.”

You see, France is filled with big old churches, but most of them are empty. The truth is, France is the forth largest atheistic country in the world—less than one percent of the population claims to have a relationship with Jesus. Most people have been hurt by religion and want nothing to do with God. Mary described it, saying, “France has a disaffection with the Church.”

For most of the French, their hope is not in God or even the church. They have hope that this building—this symbol—can be saved. They hope that Notre Dame can be rescued, restored, and see new life. Little do they realize that the work they hope to see done in this building, God wants to see done in them.

One of the greatest spiritual hurdles for the French is formal religion itself. They detest it and struggle to separate Christ from it. As people stare at the church, they are forced to look at religion. And until this hurdle is overcome, they will never be able to enter into relationship with the living Christ.

I believe somehow all of this is causing people to look deep—to search their roots, history, and identity. They seem to be collectively tapping into something simultaneously ancient and new. Physically, emotionally, and even spiritually there is a stirring in the heart of France.

Pray with us that the French people will wrestle with this deep stirring and ask the hard questions so they all will see that God is more than buildings, services, rules, and rigidness. Our resurrected Lord is our greatest hope. Only Jesus can rescue and restore their hearts, bringing new life. May this be the beginning of a great movement of the Holy Spirit here in France.

As the people stare with broken hearts at blackened walls, questioning it all, may we the believers be there to comfort, listen, guide, and love.

*Name changed

Source: Alliance News Feed – Notre Dame: The Heart of France on Fire

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