Fire engulfs Notre Dame cathedral in Paris

Catholic News Agency

Photo by Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

.- The Cathedrale Notre-Dame is on fire, according to the Paris fire department. Multiple eyewitnesses shared photos and videos of the cathedral with visible plumes of smoke and flames across the cathedral’s roof.

Firefighters responded to an alarm rasied shortly before 7pm, April 15. The historic spire of the cathedral, which stood 226 feet tall, collapsed shortly before 8pm.

The entire cathedral roof appears to have collapsed, while the fire continues to burn within the main structure.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the major religious and artistic treasures of the cathedral were removed as the fire began, including a relic of the crown of thorns.

Initial reports indicated that buring debris from the fire was falling in the immeadite vicinity of the cathedral, but local media are now describing the fire as contained with in the cathedral building itself.

Firefighters have cautioned that although the height of the flames appears has abated, the fire within the cathedral itself is not under contol. Efforts were initially hampered by the height of the cathedral roof, which prevented emergency services from reaching the flames.

No announcement has yet been made concerning any injuries or fatalities resulting from the fire.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo issued a series of brief statements via Twitter saying that emergency responders are fighting to control the flames and appealing to local residents to keep the area clear to assist their efforts.

Officials have not yet determined what caused the fire, which is still burning. Both the fire department and the office of the public prosecuter in Paris have confirmed that invesitgations into the origin and cause of the fire have been opened.

Built between the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, the landmark cathedral in the French capital is one of the most recognizable churches in the world, receiving more than 12 million visitors each year.

The cathedral was undergoing some restorative work at the time the fire broke out, though it is unknown if the fire originated in the area of the work.

The fire comes after several weeks of vandalism and arson attacks on church buildings across France.

French President Emmanuel Macron released a statement on Twitter expressing the “emotion” of “the whole nation.”

Macron said his thoughts were with all Catholics and French citizens.

“Like all our compatriots, tonight I am sad to see a part of [all of] us burn.”

Marcon arrived at the scene of the fire at 9:20 pm.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference released a statement on behalf of the American hierarchy calling the fire “horrific.”

“This particular cathedral is not only a majestic Church, it is also a world treasure. Noble in architecture and art, it has long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God,” DiNardo said.

“Our hearts go out to the archbishop and the people of Paris, and we pray for all the people of France, entrusting all to the prayers and intercession of the Mother of God, especially the firefighters battling the fire.”

This is a developing story and is being updated.

COMING UP: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.