Notre Dame is a symbol of Europe

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Notre-Dame
A photo taken on April 16 shows the damaged Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire in Paris. The devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral had been put out after burning for 15 hours. Xinhua

Notre Dame is more than just a cathedral. That’s why we should welcome, rather than criticize, the donors pledging vast sums to help rebuild this unique edifice, writes DW Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl.

When millions of euros in donations were pledged to restore Notre Dame Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of last Monday’s inferno, it’s understandable that some might ask: Why is it that vast sums are readily available to rebuild cold stone walls, but not for people dying of hunger in Sudan? Why are there funds to rebuild a cathedral, yet none to help children in refugee camps get a basic education? After all, Christianity is all about compassion and charity, is it not?

This past week on social media, and again during Saturday’s yellow vest protests, many criticized the hypocrisy of the donors who rushed to support the devastated cathedral, saying the building has been given a far greater importance than it deserves.

They believe the money would be better spent helping people in war zones and disaster areas around the world, a sentiment shared by many who devote every day to making the world a better, fairer place.

Certainly, the world’s wealthy should strive to share some of their riches with those who have very little. Christians, in particular, should recognize that wealth comes with a certain responsibility; millionaires and especially billionaires ought to heed the Bible verse that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.

At the same time, some buildings are more than mere brick and mortar. They are, in fact, cultural assets that have shaped the identity of entire nations and cultural realms for centuries, and continued to shape them to this day. Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is one such edifice, and deserves special protection.

All societies depend on certain symbols that secure and represent their history. After all, a person’s origins are more than just a spot on the map. What matters today, in a world of uncertainty, is having a sense of one’s cultural heritage – it can give a person a sense of belonging and stability, and allow them to be more open to that which is foreign, new or different. A loss of the certainty creates a breeding ground for exclusion and hatred.

Notre Dame is a unique cultural symbol also because it has been visited by millions of people from around the world. Christians and non-Christians alike have been touched by its beauty, dignity and historical significance. The endless stream of snapshots of the iconic church, shared online in the past week by people who once visited Notre Dame, are a testament to the global appeal of the cathedral.

Europe is so much more than a common currency zone and economic union. Europe is also a cultural realm, and Notre Dame Cathedral is one of its central symbols. That’s why it it’s appropriate, and welcome, that the superrich are getting their checkbooks out to help rebuild this cathedral. In the end, the reconstruction of Notre Dame will also be a symbol of hope.

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