With Atchison’s strong connection the global Catholic community via Benedictine College, it may be no surprise that many of those students have been to the site of the disaster in Paris.

St. Benedict Catholic Church and the surrounding academic campus stands now as a gathering point for those who are mourning the fate of one of its great ancestors, Notre Dame de Paris, devastated by fire.

“Seeing those photos and just seeing livestreaming, I just absolutely can’t describe it,” said Irma Barcena, who previously studied abroad in Europe and took time to visit the church. “I was there two years ago and now it’s in flames.”

While gripping with the memories of the beautiful, ancient cathedral and knowing how damaged it has become, the students turn to their faith in God to make sense of the tragedy.

“I think it’s so important to realize that our church and our faith is not bound to a building, but in the midst of tragedy, like, it brings people together,” said Pamela Zarybnicky, who visited in 2016. “There’s so much community and so much unity comes from these tragedies and it’s beautiful to see how this tragedy is doing that in Paris.”

Fr. Blaine Schultz, OSB, once had the opportunity as a visiting priest to lead a celebration of the Mass in the sacred halls of Notre Dame.

“When I saw the news, I thought, ‘That can’t be happening!’” Schultz said. “But you could see the images, the flames shooting through the roof. I thought, ‘Oh my Gosh, I pray they can at least save something of it.’ And now I understand they were able to save much of the beautiful main entrance. Yet the roof and interior remains totally destroyed. What a loss.”

Schultz said that in his experiences, rather than serve as a locus for local Parisian worshipers, Notre Dame is a draw for tourists and is both a religious and national symbol of France. And yet the glory of its nature of a church is hard for someone who hasn’t visited to comprehend, he said.

“It’s truly incredible for someone who hasn’t been there to grasp,” Schultz said. “Combined with the gallery spaces, Notre Dame can seat what, 10,000 people? By contrast, the Abbey Church seats, at most, a thousand. And if anyone knows the Abbey Church, just think about the size of that. You can compare those two.”

The latest information indicates that the roof, spire and much of the combustible structure throughout the inner workings of the centuries old great stoneworks of Notre Dame has been lost in an apparent accident related to ongoing renovation proceedings. New information on Tuesday indicated that the belltowers, facade and some of the most valuable stained glass windows of Notre Dame have survived the fires.

“It’s so beautiful to see people all over, both here in the United States, at Benedictine and all over the world,” said student Kaitlyn Enders. “To really use those roots as a Catholic community to not only lift each other up in prayer but also to lift each other up in unfortunate circumstances like this.”

Crowds have been seen in the streets of Paris gathering to mourn and to pray that the landmark will one day return to glory.

“If I was in Paris right now, I would be there too,” said Wesley Greer, who visited the church while studying abroad in 2017. “I’d pray alongside all those people praying for it and the possibility that it could be restored in some way in the future.”

Schultz said he remains hopeful that once rebuilt, Notre Dame will continue to inspire as it has before.

“So many people admire the church and want to rebuild this,” he said. “Of course, we can never replace the magnificent artworks that have been lost. This reminds us, though, of the importance of having structures like this in our society where people can see not only a religious building, but also its purpose, and that is to serve God.”

Marcus Clem can be reached at

marcus.clem@atchisonglobenow.com

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