International Support in Response to Notre Dame Fire
Millions across the globe watched in tears as the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris collapsed on the evening of April 15. The adored site, visited by over 13 million tourists each year, had been ablaze for several hours. Both the 850-year-old spire and the surrounding roof were destroyed in what has so far been deemed an accidental fire. The famous bell towers of the 13th-century church, immortalized by Victor Hugo’s 1833 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, survived. A firefighter was harmed in the blaze.
The partial burning of Notre Dame less than a week before Easter attracted international sorrow and sympathy. The Vatican commented that Pope Francis was “praying for French Catholics and for the people of Paris in face of the terrible fire which has ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral.”
French President Emmanuel Macron promised immediately to rebuild the historical site, launching an international funding campaign. Billionaire Bernard Arnault, L’Oréal, and French energy company Total, among others, promptly guaranteed hundreds of millions in donations. Macron declared, “We will rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral, more beautiful than ever, and I want this to be finished in five years. We can do it, and we will mobilize to do so.”
Following the fire, political action came to an abrupt halt in France as parties called off their meetings, attacks on Macron briefly ceased, and European election campaigning was paused. A highly anticipated speech by Macron planned for Monday night was canceled. The speech was set to summarize the results of France’s Great National Debate, a several-month period in which citizens expressed complaints to the national government. Some noted Macron’s advantage in using the disaster to distract from the months-long, violent Yellow Vest protests.
The protests — which call attention to economic inequality and accuse Macron’s government of favoring the elite — continued in Paris on Saturday for the 23rd consecutive weekend. Firefighters worked to contain small fires set on cars, motorbikes and barricades along the Paris march route. The blazes set by protestors seemed to ironize the French government’s attention toward rebuilding Notre Dame in contrast to its perceived apathy regarding France’s unemployment and taxes.
“I think what happened at Notre Dame is a great tragedy but humans should be more important than stones,” said protestor Jose Fraile. “If humans had a little bit more money, they too could help finance the reconstruction work at Notre Dame.”
While political tensions in France were reignited following the Notre Dame fire, global pledges for reconstruction neared $1 billion by April 17 and doubled over the next two days.