As you drive toward the great city of Paris you will see the marker signs just like any city in the world: “50 kilometers to Paris,” “20 kilometers to Paris,” “3 kilometers to Paris.” The unique thing about the mileage marker signs in Paris is that everything is measured from Notre Dame Cathedral. One could say that every place in the surroundings of Paris revolves around the cathedral that is literally and metaphorically at the heart of the city. All of the roads therefore will eventually lead to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and at the center of Notre Dame Cathedral is God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament.
To that end, I was captivated by two vignettes that emerged from the devastating conflagration of the most famous church in the world dedicated to the Blessed Mother.
The first involves the bravest people in the world: firefighters. As the first fire trucks arrived and as they were rigging their fire equipment, one firefighter leapt off the truck and did something none of the others did yet—he immediately ran directly into the burning Cathedral. This firefighter also happens to be a Catholic Priest. Father Fournier is a priest and also a member of the French Armed Forces as well as the Paris Fire Department. I will let Father Fournier tell his own story as conveyed by French News Service:
“…. right away two things must absolutely be done: save this unfathomable treasure that is the Crown of Thorns, and of course our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament. As I entered the cathedral, there was little smoke and almost no heat, but we had a vision of what hell may be: like waterfalls of fire pouring down from the openings in the roof. The relic was extracted from the building and guarded by police officers. Everybody understands that the Crown of Thorns is an absolutely unique relic, but the Blessed Sacrament is our Lord, really present in His body, soul, divinity and humanity and you understand that it is hard to see someone you love perish in the blaze. As firefighters we see casualties from fire and we know its effects, this is why I sought to preserve above all, the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. When the fire attacked the northern bell tower we started to fear losing it. This was exactly the time when I rescued the Blessed Sacrament. And I did not want to simply leave with Jesus: I took the opportunity to perform Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. Here I am completely alone in the cathedral, in the middle of burning debris falling down from the ceiling, I call upon Jesus to help us save His home. It was probably both this and the excellent general maneuver of the firefighters that led to the stopping of the fire, the ultimate rescuing of the northern tower. We started Lent by imposing ashes and saying ‘remember you are dust,’ and truly this was a miniature Lent: the Cathedral went to ashes, not to disappear, but to emerge stronger, as we Christians are, after the Resurrection of our Lord.”
While this was happening inside, outside the world was stunned by the gathering of young people along the Seine and the walkways of the Left Bank kneeling, praying and chanting hymns to the Blessed Mother as her home went up in flames. Where had these youths learned these prayers and hymns? After so many generations of French people had left the practice of the faith, here was a new generation of French youth who so naturally turned to God in prayer. The embers of faith had been stoked within them as Father Fournier told us: “the Cathedral went to ashes, not to disappear, but to emerge stronger as we Christians are after the Resurrection of our Lord.”