Sarah Grace Goolden
A major fire erupted at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France last week, resulting in the destruction of priceless art and history. The building, which began construction in 1163, suffers major damage, but still stands tall after a 12-hour fire. The tragedy has rocked not only the French and Catholics, but the entire world. Everyone was able to unite and mourn the loss of artifacts and archives.
Who is responsible for repairing the church? Technically, under secular laws, the French government owns the building itself, and allows the Catholic archdiocese to rent it for free permanently. That does not mean that they are footing the bill, though. The agreement clearly states that the archdiocese are responsible for upkeep. The government allots them $2.28 million a year but that will not cover what needs to be done to salvage the cathedral.
Very quickly, individuals and organizations put their resources together to donate over a million dollars for the reconstruction of Notre Dame. Francois Henri Pinault and Bernard Arnault both pledged a million dollars each. Despite these generous donations, architects say the repairs could take decades and possibly even more money than is already donated.
Earlier in the same month, Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old son of a deputy sheriff, was arrested for the hate-motivated arson of three predominantly black churches in St. Landry Parish. There were no injuries or deaths because the churches were vacant at the time. However, the buildings themselves suffered extensive damage. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church is almost completely destroyed. The community, although targeted and attacked, are trying to remain hopeful and forgiving. Reverend Harry J. Richard stated that, “They burned down a building; they didn’t burn down our spirit.”
When these fires in Louisiana did not receive a similar reaction to Notre Dame, journalist Yashar Ali took to twitter to point this out. Before this comparison was made, there was little attention given to the Louisiana predominantly-black churches, and even less money being donated. The GoFundMe to rebuild Notre Dame has brought in over two million dollars.
Both incidences are disheartening and a pointless eradication of culture. Everyone should be very careful when trying to compare tragedies, because the severity of one does not discount the other. Notre Dame was a shock to the world and should be mourned. However, much of the structure itself as well as the art and historical artifacts still stand while the Louisiana churches are mostly destroyed, and, without financial support, will remain that way.
Notre Dame has a rich history, but so does St. Mary Baptist, Greater Union Baptist and Mount Pleasant Baptist. They were standing for over a hundred years. They were places of worship for African Americans during Segregation and Jim Crow laws. In a time of oppression, churches are beacons of hope for many, and the fact that they were burned because of that feels like a hundred steps backwards. Even though our country is not legally segregated, these problems still exist. America is not a post-racial society, as some people believe. If we do not protect these places, which served and continue to serve safe havens for minorities, we are telling them they do not matter.
It is wildly unfortunate that it took a disaster like the fire of Notre Dame to raise awareness and financial support for the churches in Louisiana. In an ideal world, they would not have had to wait this long for money and the contrast would not have had to be pointed out for people to care. However, this comparison ended up being incredibly productive and helpful, in the midst of two tragedies.