The Fire at Notre Dame


The fire of Notre-Dame Cathedral April 15-16 this year was a tragic loss that will not be permanent because of the determination of the French people, who have rallied to rebuild it, with a goal of a five-year time frame.

Heroic measures to save many of the important artefacts and works of art were successful, and even the organ may indeed by salvageable.

When it is rebuilt, clearly it will be done using methods that cannot be the same as the original.  The timbers are no longer available.   The construction will have to adhere to building and safety codes.

Thought must be given to rebuilding the cathedral in a way to re-establish its beauty, its function, and its significance from spiritual, architectural, and artistic perspectives; it will be the same, but not the same.  It is notable that the cathedral has suffered destruction in the past, and has been rebuilt before.

Can our Catholic Church look at this fire for lessons?  Our church has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals, by clericalism that compromised schools, orphanages and parishes worldwide.  Even elements of the hierarchy of the church and its structure have been implicated.

Unlike the efforts for the physical building of a cathedral, the efforts to rebuild our true church have been hampered by a longing to return to some fantastical past, ignoring the context of our modern world.  Nostalgia is a trap of sentimentality that can hamper reform and rebuilding that will respond to the challenges and requirements of our time.  We can’t let the sadness for something valued about the past keep us there, for what it is in the past will not suffice today.

To presume that we are unchanging denies the vision Pope Francis has for the Word and the Church.  “A Church that lives by listening to the Word is never satisfied with its own security.  She is docile to the unpredictable novelty of the Spirit.” (

We are committed to change and novelty because we listen to the living Word.

“And yet even amid such a loss, it’s important that people remember Notre Dame is still just a building made of stone, Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, spokesman for the Bishop’s Conference of France, said on the French television network TF1.

As Holy Week begins, Catholics are urged to be the “living stones of the Church” as they celebrate the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, “source of our hope,” the Conference said in a statement.”

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I guess that’s the main lesson.  Our church is not dependent on any structure, physical or organizational.  If the structure is an impediment then it just has to change.

We are the living stones of the Church.  Stones are solid and resilient.

To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, when we hit water, we send forth tiny ripples of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls.

Together. We can change.

Dr. Michael Bautista is a physician practising in St. John's and is the recipient of the 2015 Ignatian Spirit Award from St. Bonaventure's. He is also the Chair of the Discipline of Anesthesia at Memorial University. and an associate professor of Medicine.

  • Barbara Lewis
    Posted at 08:12h, 06 July Reply


  • Susan Tomenson
    Posted at 09:05h, 06 July Reply

    I like very much Michael’s statement that as People of God we are committed to the living Word of God.

  • Paul Baker
    Posted at 09:33h, 06 July Reply

    A very interesting, insightful and challenging read. Thanks so very much.

  • Karen Arthurs
    Posted at 10:01h, 06 July Reply

    Agreed, Barbara has responded with my same sentiments to your writing. I do believe the fire can be realized as a lesson for the true meaning of church.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 10:02h, 06 July Reply

    Thank you Mike!

  • John Montague
    Posted at 10:07h, 06 July Reply

    We the Baptised Catholic people are the Church. Buildings are not the Church, they are just structures made from building materials. Buildings do not have faith, they do not believe in the paschal mystery. They are simply structures for the community to gather, celebrate Eucharist, and pray.

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