“Notre-Dame de Paris … is the very soul of France, the soul of the firstborn daughter of the Church,” said Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII.1
This explains the shock and universal commotion in the face of the tragic fire that destroyed part of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris on the evening of April 15, 2019. In minutes, the flames devoured eight centuries of history and almost destroyed one of the most representative symbols of Christian civilization.
Indeed, Notre Dame de Paris, a pure jewel of Gothic art, reflects the enthusiasm for the Faith of the men who built it. Notre Dame is the pinnacle of that time to which Pope Leo XIII referred in his encyclical Immortale Dei (1885):
There was once a time when States were governed by the philosophy of the Gospel. Then it was that the power and divine virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws, institutions, and morals of the people, permeating all ranks and relations of civil society. Then, too, the religion instituted by Jesus Christ, established firmly in befitting dignity, flourished everywhere, by the favor of princes and the legitimate protection of magistrates; and Church and State were happily united in concord and friendly interchange of good offices. The State, constituted in this wise, bore fruits important beyond all expectation, whose remembrance is still, and always will be, in renown, witnessed to as they are by countless proofs which can never be blotted out or ever obscured by any craft of any enemies.2
Messages of solidarity with the Catholics of France and the French flowed from all over the world. In a few hours, private people and institutions offered hundreds of millions of euros for the cathedral’s reconstruction work.
However, some dissonant voices arose amid the general consternation: from Muslims and a Chilean Jesuit priest.
Rebecca Perring, of Express.co.uk, reports:
A poster created by an ISIS-affiliated propaganda wing shows the cathedral engulfed by flames with the words “have a good day” and describes the inferno as “retribution and punishment.” According to the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, the Al-Muntasir group created the poster, which reads: “Its construction began in the year 1163 and ended in 1345. It’s time to say goodbye to your oratory polytheism.”3
For her part, Kelleigh Nelson reports: “Videos posted on social media show a segment of the French population rejoicing over the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday, including laughing and smiling emojis by users with Arab names. Thousands of Muslims on Twitter rejoiced.”4
In the same vein, a French web site reports that, “on the Al Jazeera channel, hilarity dominates” and shows pictures of posts on that Islamic channel. One of the posts featured a large photograph of Notre Dame in flames, with the comment: “Allah is great.” Another post, signed by “l’Algerien Kamel,” and also illustrated with the cathedral in flames, goes further: “J’espère que toute la France brûlera” (“I hope all of France will burn”).
A Jesuit Joins the Islamic Chorus
As soon as the news of the fire began circulating, Chilean Jesuit priest Nemo Castelli, currently residing at Boston College, tweeted: “What a prophetic beginning of Holy Week! I know that it is a patrimonial wonder of the humanity of the 12th century, but it can represent a type of Church that has to end by dying: it resembles a museum, insignificant for life, which cares for the institution and whose rules distance [people] from God (At 1:05 PM 15 Apr 2019).”5
It is no surprise that Muslims, who consider the worship of the Holy Trinity as a form of polytheism, are jubilant about the tragedy that struck one of the most iconic Catholic temples on Earth.
However, it is impossible to understand the Jesuit’s reaction unless one admits that he too disagrees with Catholic doctrine, at least as it has always been taught and believed from the Church’s earliest days. Notre Dame is a material expression of adherence to and fervor in practicing this Faith, which reached its apex in the Middle Ages.
“Watch and Pray Lest You Fall Into Temptation”
It seems opportune to conclude these considerations with words by the future Pius XII in the aforementioned sermon: “Notre-Dame de Paris, always serene in its calm and peaceful gravity, seems to endlessly repeat to all those passing by: Orate, fratres as if it were, I would gladly say, a perpetual invitation to prayer written in stone.”6
However, he warns, with words pronounced in the troubled days that preceded World War II, but which apply prophetically to our no less dreary epoch:
Be vigilant! Yes, there are many who, like the apostles in Gethsemane the moment their Master was about to be arrested, seem to fall asleep in their blind unconsciousness, convinced that the threat hanging upon the world does not affect them, that they bear no responsibility and run no risk in the crisis in which the universe struggles in anguish. …
How many remain deaf and inert to Christ’s warning to his own Apostles: Vigilate et orate ut non intretis in tentationem! …
Notre Dame of Paris: A Piece of Heaven on Earth
Updated April 24, 2019.
- Association Notre Dame de Chrétienté, Sermon of Cardinal Pacelli, future Pope Pius XII, Notre Dame de Paris, July 13, 1937, available at https://www.nd-chretiente.com/dossiers/pdf/articles/2003_sermon%20du%20cardinal%20pacelli%20a%20nd%20de%20paris%2013%20juillet%201937.pdf, accessed April 23, 2019.
- Leo XII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, Nov. 1, 1885, no. 21, http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_01111885_immortale-dei.html.
- Rebecca Perring, “Notre Dame FIRE: Sick ISIS fanatics praise devastating blaze and call it ‘RETRIBUTION,’” Express, Apr. 16, 2019, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1114918/notre-dame-fire-isis-message-paris-cathedral-france-news 4/16/19.
- Kelleigh Nelson, “The Cross Still Stands Amid the Ruins of Destruction,” Capitol Hill Outsider, Apr. 17, 2019, https://www.capitolhilloutsider.com/the-cross-still-stands-amid-the-ruins-of-destruction/; See also, “‘Allah is grand’ – Not all French Are Unhappy About Notre Dame’s Destruction,” World Israel News, Apr. 16, 2019, https://worldisraelnews.com/allah-is-grand-not-all-french-are-unhappy-about-notre-dames-destruction/; Australian Jewish Association, “‘Allah Est Grand’-Celebrating the Burning of Notre Dame Cathedral,” Twitter, Apr. 18, 2019,https://twitter.com/AustralianJA/status/1117928294781833217.
- See Fr. Castelli’s Twitter comments: @nemocastelli_sj, 1:05 PM, Apr. 15, 2019. Also on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/castelli.sj/posts/10158359998537892, April 15, 2019, at 1:40 PM.
- Association Notre Dame de Chrétienté, Sermon of Cardinal Pacelli, future Pope Pius XII.