Easter: Christians celebrate resurrection, some amid churches’ ashes

Fallen debris from the burned roof structure sits near the altar inside Notre Dame Cathedral. (CNN Photo)

OPELOUSAS, La. (CNN) — As Pastor Harry Richard watched the flames consume Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday, his soul swirled with emotions.

Just two weeks earlier, on April 2, Richard’s own church, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana, was set ablaze. It was one of three predominantly black churches in the area that were intentionally burned down, according to police.

“My heart bled for them as much as it did for my own congregation,” said Richard of the Parisians devastated by the damage to their 850-year-old cathedral.

But the Baptist pastor said he also sensed the pull of something deeper, perhaps even divine, in the aftermath of the fires.

“I think that God is using these moments to bring us closer together as a world,” Richard said. “This is God’s hand on our lives to make us realize that we are all connected in some form or fashion.”

In the days after the Notre Dame fire, as money poured in to save the iconic cathedral, an online campaign encouraged people to help rebuild the three Louisiana churches as well. By Friday, more than $2 million had been raised.

While Christians connected to the charred churches appreciate the outpouring, many say they lost more than hallowed ground and irreplaceable artifacts in the smoke and ashes. They lost a part of themselves.

“She is the soul of France,” Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, whose home church is Notre Dame Cathedral, told Le Figaro this week.

And so this Easter Sunday today in some sense is being remembered as an Easter amid the ashes, as Christians from Louisiana to the Ile de la Cite, the island where Notre Dame Cathedral sits surrounded by the Seine River, take refuge in the hope of resurrection.

“What does the Lord want to tell us through this ordeal?” asked Aupetit. “Here we move from the scandal of death to the mystery of resurrection. Our hope will never disappoint us because it is based not on buildings of stone, which we will rebuild, but on the Risen One who remains forever.”

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