Southern Californians, some abroad in Paris, react with shock and sadness to Notre Dame Cathedral devastation
On Sunday, April 14, Anthony DeMarco texted photos of Notre Dame to his parents back in Orange County, calling the medieval Parisian cathedral “a sight to see.” The very next day, he sent a very different image – of the architectural jewel consumed by fire.
“It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever experienced,” wrote the Rossmoor native, a Michigan State student studying abroad. “Very sad to see this great cathedral in flames.”
With the rest of the world, Southern Californians – some of them up close – watched in horror as smoke poured from the ethereal and seemingly eternal church, built to endure 850 years ago.
Arriving in Paris Monday morning, D.J. Morales of Tustin made Notre Dame her first stop.
“Just hours later, the cathedral caught fire,” she said. “I stayed watching it for hours. I heard and saw people crying, holding hands, photographing the cathedral, singing together. It was beautiful to see their unification and strength.”
Fountain Valley resident Lupe Secrest, also vacationing in Paris, said she and her husband David “are completely saddened to see the oldest building in Paris destroyed by fire. People are feeling devastated.”
J.D. Notari moved from San Pedro to a Paris suburb with her French husband five years ago. “We have been glued to our TVs,” she said Monday. “Neighbors are out in the street consoling each other. I feel sick to my stomach.”
However, Notari added, she finds comfort in French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement that the cathedral “will be rebuilt because that is what the French expect (and) what our history deserves.”
From thousands of miles away, Father Germán Sánchez, a chaplain with the Los Angeles Archdiocese, could only muse on his memories of his beloved Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris – where he would pray and reflect in his youth. He wondered what to tell parishioners this Holy Week, the prelude to Easter.
“All humanity has lost a beautiful monument, a beautiful place where you can find people from all over the world,” Sanchez said.
Echoing Sanchez, French-born Father Pierre Deglaire, a chaplain with the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, said Notre Dame “is not just for Catholics.”
“Thirty-thousand people visit it every day,” he said. “When I was there in November, Muslims were visiting it. Notre Dame is important for all faiths, for all people – if not for religion, then for its splendor.”
A French national who now lives in Alhambra, Emma Franks said her “heart is breaking.”
“Notre Dame is our history and our culture, and serves as an important religious symbol,” said Franks, executive director of Alliance Francaise academy in Pasadena.
For namesake Notre Dame High in Riverside, which hosts educational tours of Paris, the tragedy struck a painful chord.
“Our students have taken recent trips to the cathedral, and many of our teachers have also had the honor to visit,” said acting principal RaeAnna Ashton. “We are deeply saddened.”
Kevin William Vann, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, said in a statement, “Our prayers are with the workers, first responders, French Catholics and all those affected by the tragic fire at one of Catholicism’s most iconic sites.”
Reporter Ryan Carter contributed to this story.