Actual AP headline: "Tourist mecca Notre Dame also revered as place of worship"

It’s fun to write your own version of this using other religious sites. “Islam gaining traction in popular travel destination Mecca.”

“Former Argentine cardinal relocates to Rome.”


And to think, this isn’t even the most embarrassing big-media take on religion in the wake of the Notre Dame fire.

But fair is fair. The AP’s story about this is much better than the unfortunate headline appended to it. It doesn’t typify the secular perspective of the title as much as it responds to it, informing readers who might regard Notre Dame as chiefly a cultural landmark that the cathedral remains important to Catholic spiritual life.

The soaring beauty of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral as it echoed with Gregorian chants so moved French poet Paul Claudel on Christmas Day 1886 that the avowed atheist converted to Catholicism on the spot.

“In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed,” Claudel, who remained a committed Catholic until his death nearly seven decades later, wrote of the religious transformation that is commemorated with a plaque on the floor…

There are four Masses every day except Sunday, when there are five. The Sunday evening service is usually celebrated by the Paris archbishop and broadcast on Catholic television and Radio Notre Dame, reaching the faithful beyond the stone walls.

“Even though it belongs to the French state, it remains a living creature where they celebrate the liturgy, where they have meetings of faith and where even non-believers enter to have an experience of beauty,” the Vatican’s culture minister, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said.

Appreciate the AP headline while you can. In 25 years, after they strip the place down and ugly it up with monuments to “justice” or the state or whatever, it won’t be revered as a place of worship any longer.


If you don’t have time for the AP story, at least carve out five minutes for this WSJ piece about the shocking state of Notre Dame’s disrepair. There were holes in the roof, crumbling flying buttresses, leaks in the spire, even a risk of a wall collapsing. Because the cathedral (like all churches in France built before 1905) is owned by the state, it had to compete for funding with other government priorities, including other churches, and ended up being neglected. Religion isn’t, after all, a top priority in modern France. A sad irony is that the French government had encouraged church leaders to treat the location as more of a “tourist mecca” than a place of worship and to monetize it accordingly. Church leaders understandably refused — but that left the cathedral scrambling for funds for repairs.

The state pushed Notre Dame to follow the example set by other historic churches that charge an entrance fee. Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, rector of Notre Dame, pushed back, according to a fundraiser present at the meetings, wary of turning a place of worship into another commercial tourist stop.

When a culture ministry official visited the cathedral during a religious feast day one year, Msgr. Chauvet gestured toward the crowds. “Who are the tourists here?” he asked. “Can you pick out who I should charge?”

“Keeping the cathedral free has always been the wish of the clergy,” said Mr. Finot, the Notre Dame spokesman.

Church leaders had been counting on a group of American and French benefactors called The Friends of Notre Dame to raise money. The good news is that that’s suddenly become much easier. The bad news is that parts of the cathedral had to be reduced to ash to make it happen. Speaking of which, the Journal reports that workers were inside “the forest” underneath the roof on the day of the fire, reinforcing the framing, with the last one clocking out about 30 minutes before the first alarm sounded. Could heat from equipment that hadn’t properly cooled yet have ignited the wood? The rector of the cathedral claims that a “computer glitch,” maybe related to temporary elevators in the scaffolding, might have started the blaze but he didn’t get into specifics. Police had noticed passersby climbing the scaffolding over the past few months, raising the possibility of an outsider gaining access to the roof. But the fire began in broad daylight. Surely someone would have seen a saboteur climbing. Five days later, the cause is still anyone’s guess.


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