PARIS >> The archbishop of Paris and Catholics from around France and the world honored the firefighters who saved Notre Dame Cathedral, praying today at a special Easter Mass for a swift reconstruction of the beloved monument.
Some streets around the medieval cathedral also reopened six days after the blaze, allowing tourists to get a closer look and local restaurants to reopen, after firefighters declared the last hot points extinguished. Notre Dame itself is expected to remain closed for years.
The blaze that engulfed the cathedral on Monday night forced parish members and visitors who hoped to worship at Notre Dame on Easter to find other places to attend services. The Paris diocese invited them to join Sunday’s Mass at the grandiose Saint-Eustache Church on the Right Bank of the Seine River.
The firefighters, who struggled for nine hours to contain flames that consumed Notre Dame’s roof and collapsed its spire, held a place of honor at the Saint-Eustache. Police officers and a soldier guarded the 13th century church. Visitors stood in a long line to have their bags checked before they could enter.
Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit handed firefighters at the Easter Mass a book of scriptures that was rescued from Notre Dame.
“Your men were able to save many things in the cathedral. But you also saved an item that is precious for us,” Aupetit said. “It still is a bit dirty, full of ashes and likely a bit damaged by the fire. You saved it, and I wanted to give it to you. It’s a very humble way to thank you.” said.
He notably thanked fire service chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who recovered from the fire a chalice containing consecrated hosts that for Catholics are the body of Christ.
Speaking of Jesus’ resurrection, Aupetit told the congregation, “We, too, brothers and sisters, we will rise again, just like our cathedral will rise again.”
The French archbishop also shared thoughts for “our Sri Lanka brothers who were massacred” in Easter attacks on churches and hotels that killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more.
Notre Dame’s parishioners were joined by Catholics and others from around France and beyond. An Associated Press reporter heard at least six languages being spoken in the crowd.
“Everyone is affected by what happened to Notre Dame,” Parisian Michel Ripoche said. “Easter is a holiday we celebrate every year, all our lives. Clearly what happened at Notre Dame added to the importance” of today’s service.
Peggy Godley, who was visited the French capital from Chicago with her husband and two daughters, “wanted to see what it was like to celebrate a Mass in Paris.”
“We didn’t get to see Notre Dame. We were hoping to be there, but it’s too late,” she said.
Construction workers strung netting across one of the cathedral’s prized rose windows Sunday, apparently to protect the centuries-old stained glass.
Notre Dame isn’t expected to reopen to the public for five or six years, according to its rector, although the French president is pushing for a quick reconstruction. Investigators think the fire was an accident, possibly linked to renovation work.
Notre Dame Rector Patrick Chauvet told the Associated Press on Good Friday he had “plenty of hope, because I believe that from this suffering there will be a renaissance.”
French Culture Minister Franck Riester said today that most of the spots at Notre Dame that were considered vulnerable to more damage or collapse have been stabilized, including support structures above the rose windows. He told France-2 television “there remain some sensitive points in the vaulted ceiling.”