I’m watching the news. There are pictures of flames licking the sky above Paris. The roof of Notre Dame is on fire with great swirling vortices, yellow and orange leaping from the building. On the television, what seems like a single stream of water pathetically tries to douse the flames and save this iconic French building. Thankfully nobody is hurt.
Now it is the next day and already efforts are being made to repair and rebuild. Even before the embers have cooled one individual has offered 100 million euro of their own money to restore the cathedral to its former glory. The presidents of France and the European Union have pledged their support while international messages of unity have been forthcoming.
A few days later and a billion euro is committed. A five year plan is in place to rebuild the cathedral, to be bigger and better, and a call out for architects to work on the project has been put out around the world.
Why? What is so special about Notre Dame? Yes, it is the most visited historical site in Europe with over thirteen million visitors a year but this cannot explain the outpouring. It has to be something else. A feeling of religious fervour? A feeling of French patriotism? An opportunity to express european solidarity? A test of one’s faith? Who knows, perhaps it is all of the above or many other things. After the boxing day tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the temples were amongst the first things to be rebuilt.
Buildings burn everyday, disaster strikes with metronomic frequency. Much greater tragedies are happening all the time yet these don’t catch the mood of the nation. Sudan, Yemen, Venezuela, Mozambique gather millions in donations but not billions.
It seems that for people to continue they need faith, a belief in some higher purpose and that, in the end their struggles will have had meaning.