Don’t think cathedral can be rebuilt quickly

Committed Christians believe in an all-powerful God whose majesty and beauty cannot be comprehended, much less matched.

Yet on rare occasions, humans are moved to incredible feats of creation as testaments of the depth of their faith.

More than 850 years ago, on an island in the Seine River at Paris, an attempt at such creation began. For generations, thousands of craftsmen, using only hand tools for the work and paper on which to make engineering calculations, labored. It took a full century for most of what they attempted to be completed, another for it to be pronounced finished.

Thus was the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris — known to much of the world as Notre Dame de Paris — brought into existence.

On April 15, as crowds gathered in the street, many singing hymns, the great cathedral was ravaged by fire.

From throughout the world, from people of many faiths, words of sorrow and condolence flowed into France. A high-ranking Sunni Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of Egypt, said what many were feeling: “Our hearts are with our brothers in France.”

Notre Dame can never be restored to what it was, though the French vow they will try. For one thing, as a forestry expert has noted, there are no trees on the continent big enough to replace the massive timbers that once supported the cathedral’s roof.

Perhaps more pertinent, the craftsmanship — the blood, sweat, tears and prayers — that went into Notre Dame cannot be replicated. All that is gone forever.

Offers of money, resources and expertise already are flooding into Paris. No doubt many in our instant-gratification culture hope that within five years, as French President Emmanuel Macron has promised, or perhaps a decade, the cathedral can be restored to the appearance it had before the fire.

Let us hope the French reject that sort of timetable. The kind of craftsmanship required is not just engineering expertise. It is attempting to replicate what, in important ways, was an act of worship — an offering of the very best the French had to offer.

Seldom do we, as human beings in modern times, display such dedication.

The loss this week, then, was more than timber and stone. The question now is whether we human beings of the 21st century have what it takes to rebuild and replace all that was lost in Paris.

It’s possible, mind you. In Barcelona, Spain, construction of the Sagrada Familia basilica began in 1882 and is still underway. It is scheduled to be finished in 2026. It is amazing — a true world treasure.

After all that effort, it won’t be there forever — like Notre Dame de Paris. But it’s not useless. One of humans’ most characteristic traits is that we reach beyond our ability to grasp. When the intent is proud and selfish, it’s vanity, but when it’s done as a gift to God and all of humanity, it is noble and good.

Such gifts take time.

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