By: Rachel Hess Wachman (Correspondent)
On Monday April 15th, flames engulfed Paris’s famous Notre Dame Cathedral, resulting in the collapse of the eight hundred fifty-six year-old cathedral’s roof, as well as its iconic spire.
After the conflagration that sent France – and the world – reeling, several prominent French billionaires donated hundreds of millions of euros to fund the restoration of Notre Dame, launching a world-wide fundraising effort to help rebuild the church. French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild Notre Dame within five years, and in a mere week, over one billion dollars have been raised for the restoration project. However, many people have begun to question why this money can so easily be raised to restore a cathedral while problems like homelessness and hunger persist.
“Notre Dame needs a roof, we need a roof too,” chanted French advocates for public housing in a protest outside Notre Dame on Monday, April 22nd. Many French citizens have demanded that poverty be addressed, especially as one billion dollars were so easily raised in under twenty-four hours for Notre Dame.
“The fire at Notre Dame reminds us that our history never stops,” said Macron. “We will always have challenges to overcome. We will rebuild Notre Dame, more beautiful than before – and I want it done in the next five years. We can do it. After the time of testing comes a time of reflection and then of action.”
“It was just so surreal,” said SHS French teacher Kathleen Turner. “I just kept thinking this building from the thirteenth century has survived the middle ages, World War One, and World War Two. Then a fire in three hours could destroy it. In three hours, we could lose ten centuries of history.”
“The amount of money that people have pledged is a reflection of the way people feel about historic buildings as fixed points in the landscape,” said Alan Davies, an architect who specializes in historic building conservation. “Notre-Dame is of national and international standing.”
“It’s an architectural wonder,” said Turner. “The windows, the organ, the intricacy of the designs and sculpture, it’s incredible. No matter what you believe or don’t believe, you can’t help by being impressed by the scale and details of the building, and what it’s withstood over time.
“If they can give tens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, then they should stop telling us there is no money to help with the social emergency,” said Philippe Martinez, leader of the General Confederation of Labor trade union.
“I just find it interesting that because this is the crisis of the moment, people are willing to throw money at it,” said junior Riley Johnson. “But there are problems that have been going on for years that haven’t been addressed. There’s people every year giving to these causes, but it’s not enough.”
France has faced much unrest in the past six months, with the launching of the yellow vest or gilets jaunes movement protesting high taxes, high unemployment and overall economic inequality. Many demonstrations have turned into violent riots, and several people have died since the birth of the movement.
“Millions for Notre Dame, what about for us, the poor?” read the sign of one protester. The yellow vest demonstrators marched throughout Paris on Saturday, April 20th, setting fires around the city to gain the government’s attention. The police responded with tear gas and water cannons to try to control the dangerous parts of the protest. This march became the twenty-third consecutive weekend protest for the yellow vest demonstrators.
“We’re waiting for strong measures from the government that we still haven’t seen, and there’s an urgency to act on democracy, tax, society and the environment,” another protester said.
“Surely the children suffering in Marseille could have used the one hundred thousand euros more than the church that has already received over a billion in donations by billionaires,” tweeted actress Pamela Anderson on April 24th. “I hope they will reconsider and give to where it is needed,” said Anderson.
“When I saw the video of the spire collapse, I felt that in my heart. I’m not Catholic, I’m not French, but I love Notre Dame,” said junior Lydia Singer, who was at the cathedral merely an hour before the fire broke out.
Notre Dame should be rebuilt, Singer says, but money should also be raised to solve pressing problems in society. “We have all this money but we’re not using it to help people.”
“I can see wanting to rebuild this iconic structure that means so much to so many people, but I also feel like if you could have a billion dollars in a week, imagine what that could do for the entire poor population,” said Turner. “In the end, the church is not human. And there are humans suffering right next door.”