Chicago French community, firefighters sadden by Notre Dame blaze

The world reacted with shock and prayers to the massive fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, united in grief and in solidarity with the people of France.

In Chicago, the French community watched from afar.

Eric Marie, who grew up in France, called his family on the phone.

“It’s a disaster,” he said.  “My mom is an old-fashioned woman. We can walk (to Notre Dame) from where she lives over there.  It’s a total disaster from her point of view.”

His memories from years of taking his now 7-year-old son to the cathedral are now set in his mind.

Chicago First Responders Reflect

Watching Notre Dame burn the way it did gave anyone in the business of firefighting, pause.  A Chicago battalion chief said when firefighters learn they are on their way to save a church, they can’t help but get emotionally invested too.

Chief Stephen Little is part of CFD’s Engine 13.  He couldn’t help but put himself in the shoes of firefighters in Paris.

”I’ve had church fires before, maybe not that size, but a church is a church,” he said.

Little was part of the crews that battled the blaze at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral in 2009.

CFD conducts “prefire planning.” Firefights try to do annual walkthroughs of buildings, meet with property managers and make sure there is a first responder plan at the front desk or lobby when they enter a building or a church that’s on fire. Except for the unpredictable fire, the purpose is to know exactly what they are walking into.

Preservation of life, then preservation of property always the priority Little said, and in that order. But sometimes it’s hard to think they can’t accomplish the impossible when everyone is praying for a miracle.

“Emotions run high when you are talking about church fires. Because we want to save the church,” he said.  “We want to check our emotions when we leave the station to make sure we are making the right decision once we get there.”

 

Reaction from around the world

As the flames tore through the 12th-century cathedral, Spain's prime minister offered France the help of his country in the recovery.

The fire is a "catastrophe for France, for Spain and for Europe," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted Monday, adding that the flames are destroying "850 years of history, architecture, painting and sculpture."

President Donald Trump, speaking at an appearance in Minnesota, spoke of the "terrible, terrible fire" that devastated "one of the great treasures of the world."

"It's a part of our growing up, it's a part of our culture, it's a part of our lives," Trump said of the landmark.

Former President Barack Obama posted an old photo of himself, his wife Michelle and their two daughters lighting candles in the cathedral.

"Notre Dame is one of the world's great treasures, and we're thinking of the people of France in your time of grief," Obama said on Twitter. Michelle Obama, who was in Paris on Monday on a book tour, said "my heart aches with the people of France."

"The majesty of Notre Dame - the history, artistry, and spirituality - took our breath away, lifting us to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be," she tweeted. She predicted the cathedral would rise again.

Japan's government early Tuesday expressed sympathy and said it would consider sending support to the French government. "Its damage is a loss to the world and our hearts ache," said Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary.

The Vatican said Pope Francis "has seen with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire."

As the flames spread, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, prayed at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan for intercession.

"God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze," Dolan said in a statement.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said many works of art and holy objects inside the church had been saved, but the art world was distressed about what might have been lost.

Barbara Drake Boehm, senior curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval Cloisters branch in New York, was desolate about damage to the cathedral, which she called "one of the great monuments to the best of civilization."

"Civilization is just so fragile," Boehm told a reporter in a trembling voice. "This great hulking monument of stone has been there since 1163. It's come through so many trials."

Jeff Ament, bass player for Pearl Jam, remembered spending hours at the cathedral in his first visit, in 1991, with record executive Michael Goldstone.

"Thinking about Paris," Ament tweeted, with photos of the cathedral.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted that he's "horrified," calling the cathedral "a unique example of world heritage."

In Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church's secretary for inter-Christian relations Hieromonk Stefan called the fire "a tragedy for the entire Christian world and for all who appreciate the cultural significance of this temple," the state news agency RIA-Novosti reported:

 

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