Priest recalls sentimental visit to Notre Dame Cathedral

Local News

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Part of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is destroyed after flames ravaged the top of the structure.

As of 9:30 pm Monday, crews were still on scene of the historic church and popular tourist destination. People all over the world, including here in Central Illinois, watched in shock as flames devoured the building.

The cathedral, built in the Middle Ages, now looks a lot different. As Catholics are preparing for the celebration of Easter, it’s also now a time for mourning for many. But there are some who don’t view this as a complete loss. 

The Notre Dame Cathedral took nearly two centuries to build. In a matter of hours, part of it was destroyed by fire. The iconic spire collapsed. Catholics all over the world are mourning the partial loss of one of the greatest symbols in Paris, including priests in Central Illinois like Father Chase Hilgenbrink at St. John Catholic Newman Center.

He says, “For us as a church, it’s meant so much. It’s the physical reminder of Catholicism.”

It’s a landmark he’s long admired ever since he visited it in seminary seven years ago.

Father Hilgenbrinck says, “It was especially important for me as a Catholic man desiring to worship in such a special place that’s been around for so long.” 

The fire is contained but authorities are still working to find the cause. Shock set in as people watched one of the city’s most recognizable structures be consumed by flames.

 Father Hilgenbrinck says, “To see that go by the wayside is really sad after all these years of maybe 13 million people a year visiting that place. It’s amazing that people may no longer be able to visit there.” 

Mary Hinders recalls when she saw it in college.

She says, “I spent a lot of time there sketching it and studying it. I did go back with my husband seven years ago.” 

It holds a special place in her memories. 

She says, “It’s important to me both as a Catholic iconic building as well as the architecture. It’s just a beautiful building.” 

Father Hilgenbrinck says while he recognizes the significance of the cathedral he believes there’s more to the Roman Catholic faith than a building.

He says, “I believe in God’s providence. All things happen for a reason. Sometimes we never know why things happen the way they do. But certainly it’s a reminder for us that all things are passing away and we don’t rely on church structures for our faith. We have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that’s what it’s all about and that’s what that church represented.”

The French president has vowed to rebuild the cathedral. Monday night, a French billionaire pledged $100 million to the reconstruction. 

The cathedral was undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation project when the fire started. French prosecutors have opened an investigation. The fire service says it could potentially involve work that was happening at the site. At least one firefighter was hurt.

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