The Church is Burning

Notre Dame fire shines light on opposing forces. Media by Joseph Smith

Days ago, the towers in Notre Dame came to the center of the world view as fire engulfed a cathedral 600 years older than even the concept of the United States. This iconic part of France holds a special place within the hearts and homes of the faithful. Likewise, there have been Church burnings and damaged communities within Louisiana and damaged worship spaces in St. Louis. These are places where couples have met, where history has been made, and where some believers find their home.

To gain some perspective, I spoke with Gabbie Hill and Johnny Hinton, two alumni of Greenville University.

The first question I asked was simple: what does the cathedral mean to [you]?
Gabbie: “It’s complicated because I’ve never been there. My Catholic identity is wrapped up in the beauty of these structures and the liturgy that takes place within them, and in that way, it certainly feels like a loss. The news hit the Catholic community in St. Louis particularly hard for a number of reasons…

[Strong] winds blew the roof off “the old cathedral” in Saint Louis which was incredibly saddening. The whole community was shocked by the loss, though the Archdiocese has hope that it will eventually be repaired. Its official name is “The Old Cathedral The Basilica Of Saint Louis, King Of France.”

…Only days after the first Cathedral west of the Mississippi, whose namesake is the former King of France, lost its roof in high winds, the Notre Dame Cathedral was burning in France. As if this connection wasn’t enough, it is Holy Week in the Catholic Tradition.”

Johnny responded similarly: “For me, as a Catholic, the Cathedral was [and] is a symbol of 850 years of history. Countless historical figures were involved with Notre Dame in some way, and the building itself holds timeless relics and artifacts of Christianity. It is a historic place that established Paris as a powerful city in France. Along with this history, Victor Hugo’s Our Lady of Paris brought the cathedral into the light of pop culture. It is more than just a cathedral or an old building, it is a symbol of Catholicism in the great city of Paris. “


My second question: What do the Louisiana churches mean to you?

Gabbie: “The burning of these three churches was certainly an act of evil, reminiscent of the Jim Crow-era hate crimes against black communities. These churches were also historical monuments, each was more than a century old. These churches were spiritual gathering places for a community who experienced hate and violence at the hands of individuals like the arsonist for generations.

Notre Dame Cathedral. Source: WFMT

Johnny: “The Churches are also historical for their areas. But let’s call them by name. I have seen so many people offer their condolences for these churches but haven’t taken the time to know them. St. Mary Baptist in Port Barre. The Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas. Mount Pleasant Baptist in Opelousas…These spaces were taken away through hate.”

I wanted to follow these questions with those questions about the overlap between the communities. I asked both Gabbie and Johnny if they saw an equivalency between the losses in Louisiana and France. Gabbie affirmed this analysis, citing the interaction on “black twitter” and the natural overlap. Johnny took into account some of these same ideas, but discouraged creating a false equivalency between an act of racial violence and a fire created by accident. However, both saw a natural connection, and acknowledge the need to “rebuild.”

So, I asked them how we should go about doing this.

Gabbie replied, “I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week. I am a parish pastoral council member of a church less than a mile from the Old Cathedral, and we have discussed the strong possibility that many of the parishioners of the Old Cathedral will be joining us for Holy Week and beyond. On Holy Thursday, we will be doing a small washing of the feet ceremony. The direct symbolism of washing feet is serving one another. Rebuilding is in many ways caring for one another. My hope is that Churches of ALL denominations will reach out to our brothers and sisters in Louisiana.”

Johnny: “After just a week, literally millions of dollars have been procured from the wealthy to raise new walls for Notre Dame, St. Mary’s Baptist, Mount Pleasant, and Greater Union so I doubt you’re asking about the physical rebuilding.” 

“We, as a church, are always rebuilding, aren’t we? We, as a body, are always reacting to something.”

The Church has, in 2019, seen pain develop following the mass shooting in New Zealand, the burning of the aforementioned buildings, and now the bombing and death of church goers on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. “These tragedies seem to bring us together more than separate us,” Johnny said. “We find affirmation in the body when we can all agree on what a horrible event is. We are restored in that. My prayer is that there can be healing in Paris, in Louisiana, in Chennai, in Flint, in the world. “

Blazing Cathedral. Source: Insider

Media by Joseph Smith.

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