Controversial Notre Dame renovations could bring more people to Christ

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Most tourists visiting the storied cathedral know nothing about Jesus. The proposed changes should be seen as a chance to make their first meeting meaningful.

Imagine that your local parish church receives 12 million visitors from all over the world each year, but the majority of your visitors have little or no understanding of Jesus Christ and his history or the Catholic faith?

What could you do to help many visitors learn more about Jesus Christ and be more intrigued by the Catholic faith when they leave? This is the question faced by Catholic leaders overseeing the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is an issue that has sparked significant controversy even though the purpose of the proposed changes is to make the cathedral and Christianity accessible to those who did not grow up in a Christian society.

As pointed out by a priest friend who celebrated mass at Notre-Dame, the vast majority who enter Notre-Dame are tourists, not parishioners or Catholics on pilgrimage. They go there because they are in Paris and it is one of the great sites in Paris! The proposed changes do not Make Notre Dame as a tourist destination. Notre Dame has already been a tourist destination for centuries!

What if the person crossing the threshold is a 20-year-old European or North American agnostic who has no Christian background but visits Paris with a semester of classes abroad? Or part of the 89% of French people who are not sure that God exists? Or a Muslim or a Hindu tourist? An ordinary “tourist” may not even recognize a crucifix, let alone understand what it stands for. They may not even believe that Jesus was a historic man who truly lived (what recent studies have found to be true for a significant number of young British adults).

I know from my own experience what it means to enter a religious world that nothing in my past has prepared me to understand. I am a Catholic today because as a completely ignorant fundamentalist student, I walked across the threshold of a Gothic Revival Catholic Church near my campus and felt the real presence of Jesus. None of the statues, icons or stained glass made sense to me. It turns out that the church was called Blessed Sacrament, but I had no idea what that name meant. This mystical encounter crossed a breathtaking void of ignorance, creating a bridge of spiritual trust that has changed my entire life.

Personally, I wish that in addition to the signs and other visual explanations, the cathedral could also provide “Ananiases” – fellow Catholic evangelizers – trained to serve visitors to the cathedral as spiritual and historical tour guides. I would also like to see intercessors praying quietly in the sanctuary for the work of the Holy Spirit in all who visit throughout the day.

A Parisian friend described Notre Dame this way, “The whole cathedral is filled with biblical scenes (old and new) everywhere you look. It is a living Bible and a catechism united in one. But, she noted, “you really had to prepare for your visit in advance – Internet research, guide, or paying for a guide – to get the most out of it.” Not to mention a small pair of binoculars! I live here and loved bringing visiting friends and family to see it and show things off and just see their faces light up in awe when they started to see past stone and glass!

The Archdiocese of Paris has a remarkable opportunity – in the most famous and spectacular place of worship in a highly de-Christianized country – to provide a powerful opportunity for a first encounter with Christ and the Christian faith for millions of non -catholics and non-catholics. practicing Catholics every year. Let us pray and support the efforts of the Archdiocese to make the visit to Notre-Dame de Paris a chance to meet Jesus Christ in a meaningful way.

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