Four hours after an April 15 devastating fire broke out at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Cardinal Dolan stood outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral speaking with journalists at a 4:30 p.m. news conference.
Meanwhile in Paris, it was the 10 p.m. hour and hundreds of firefighters were still battling the Notre Dame blaze, as the faithful and the world watched in disbelief and sorrow on television sets, computer monitors and cell phones.
“I just thought it would be extraordinarily appropriate,” Cardinal Dolan told reporters outside St. Patrick’s, “if we publicly expressed on behalf of our beloved St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and on behalf of the citizens of New York, of the love, the solidarity, the prayers and the sorrow that we feel over the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris, and indeed the very heart of Europe—certainly the heart of civilization in so many ways.”
The cardinal spoke outside the East 50th Street side entrance of St. Patrick’s, with the cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Robert Ritchie, by his side. “This is a moment of tears for Notre Dame…I’m just hoping that the expression of that solidarity might bring a little consolation to the people of Paris,” Cardinal Dolan said.
Cardinal Dolan said he and Msgr. Ritchie had been hearing confessions inside the cathedral, that day being Reconciliation Monday. Many of the faithful were “commenting with pain about the fire at Notre Dame,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Dolan then read an email he sent that afternoon to Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, which said in part, “My brother, Michel, the people of New York unite with you and the citizens of Paris in sorrow over today’s devastating fire…Count on our love, prayers, support and solidarity. This Holy Week teaches us that, like Jesus, death brings life. Today’s dying, we trust, will bring rising. Fraternally, Timothy.” He recalled that Archbishop Aupetit visited the Archdiocese of New York about six months ago.
The cardinal also said, “I’m grateful that nobody has been reported injured,” but added, “It affects the soul because it’s a house of prayer and faith; it affects the heart, because it’s a place of love and gathering, and community. (Later in the evening, it was reported that a firefighter suffered serious injuries).
“I’ve been honored to be in Notre Dame many times. I think Paris and New York enjoy a rich bond…As we commemorate the dying and rising of Jesus, and just as the cross didn’t have the last word, neither for people of faith in France will this fire have the last word.”
Concluding the press conference, the cardinal said, “Thanks everybody…I gotta get back to confessions.”
Jose Auces, vacationing in New York from South Carolina, was walking into St. Patrick’s Cathedral shortly after Cardinal Dolan’s remarks to the press. He attends Mass at St. Mary Magdalene parish in Simpsonville, S.C.
“We’re tourists, we were just walking by and we wanted to see inside,” Auces told CNY. He called the news of the cathedral fire in Paris “shocking.”
“It’s hard to believe that a cathedral that big and that old is on fire…This is a time for people to come together and pray to God together. The church is not just the building, the church is the people inside.”
Beth Sweatt, 70, a longtime parishioner of St. Columba in Chester, was with her 8-year-old granddaughter inside St. Patrick’s, after some shopping in Manhattan.
“I’ve been to Notre Dame; my sister had a house in France,” she said. “I’m extremely saddened to hear this terrible news; it is a shock. We must pray that it can be restored some way, somehow. Oh my goodness, it’s terrible.”