Advertisement

Reflections on Notre Dame, faith in the year 2019

Lindsey Follis arrived one evening in Paris, having just left London with a friend.

It was late, but the two were excited. It’s the City of Lights. Night in Paris is no time for sleeping.

Advertisement

So Follis, an Annapolis resident, and her friend made their way to the Seine. They walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral, the French Gothic marvel ravaged by fire last week. The intricate facade shone pale gold against the night. Inside midnight worshippers celebrated Easter mass.

“It was an incredible moment,” Follis said. “It is a moment that I will forever keep with me.”

When Notre Dame burned, the world reacted. Reports of Parisians singing hymns and watching the blaze populated news feeds. Wealthy benefactors shelled out more than $1 billion to fix damage of not-yet-known proportions.

Critics pointed to other global catastrophes, including fires at three historically black Louisiana churches — and people in turn raised about $2 million for the churches in three days. An association of Polish rabbis penned a broken-hearted letter, mourning the fire and remembering the ones that ravaged synagogues during World War II.

On Easter and Passover weekend, Anne Arundel County residents shared their own reflections on the cathedral, faith and family.

Ann Potthast, from Gambrills, brought her mother Patricia O’Connor Aronowitz to Paris in 2015. Potthast’s father was Jewish and grew up in New York. Her mother, a devout Irish Catholic.

The family started out practicing Catholicism — all the kids were baptized and some received First Holy Communion — but stopped attending after her father transferred jobs.

Still, when the opportunity arose for Potthast to visit Paris, her mother wanted to come. Patricia, 87 at the time, hadn’t been to Paris since the 1950s, before she had kids. Potthast texted her brother to let him know about their plans.

“He texted back ‘are you on drugs?’” she said. “He thought mom was not in any shape to travel. On her own she wasn’t, but with our assistance she made the trip and enjoyed it more than anyone could have.”

The highlight was Notre Dame. Seeing it was “transforming for her,” Potthast said. Patricia died from heart failure in the next year. Potthast, who married a Catholic, wept when she saw the cathedral engulfed in flames.

She and her husband don’t attend church regularly, but she finds comfort in faith.

“We believe in a loving God, an afterlife and a greater good for all mankind,” she said.

Elizabeth Honeywell grew up Roman Catholic and loving the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Disney movie based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name.

She visited the cathedral in February 2017. After attending mass, she lit a candle in honor of her great-grandmother, a French teacher who had always wanted to travel to Paris and see Notre Dame herself. She died in 1984, 10 years before Honeywell was born.

Advertisement

“Three generations later, I got to live that dream for her,” she said.

Authorities are still trying to pin down what caused the fire, which consumed most of the roof and toppled the cathedral’s spire. The cathedral’s rector, Patrick Chauvet, told local business owners a “computer glitch” contributed, but didn’t elaborate. Paris police have said an electric short-circuit may be to blame.

Whatever the cause, Honeywell said the fire seemed fitting. It happened Monday, the second day of Holy Week, when Catholics reflect on the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Catholics believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead after being crucified. French President Emmanuel Macron announced his intention to rebuild the cathedral in five years. Here, Honeywell sees parallels too. There’s beauty and hope to be found in the ashes.

Advertisement
Advertisement