What is the French Word for Heroes?

Michael Geiger

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The Notre Dame burned and the world wept. Around 7:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15th the famous church caught fire and burned for over 14 hours. While the full extent of the damage is still being assessed, the cause of the inferno remains a mystery. 

Paris’ fire service has stated that the fire may have come as a result of the renovation work that was being carried out in the cathedral. While the church was still burning, many Catholics around the world feared for the safety of the numerous holy relics that are housed in the Notre Dame.

Their fears were assuaged by Father Jean-Marc Fournier, the chairman of Paris’ emergency services department. The priest led first responders into the building and saved some of these priceless artifacts. Fr. Fournier escaped the flames ravaging the cathedral bearing Jesus’ Crown of Thorns, the tunic of St. Louis, and consecrated hosts from inside the Notre Dame’s tabernacle. 

One firefighter called the priest “an absolute hero.” He also said to local media that Fr. Fournier “showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.”

Back in 2015, Fr. Chaplain was one of the first responders to the Bataclan nightclub after it had been attacked by ISIS fighters. Fr. Fournier comforted the injured and delivered the sacrament of Last Rites to all 89 people who were killed that day. Fr. Fournier also served nearly ten years as a priest in the French armed forces and survived an ambush that killed ten of his fellow soldiers.

It really can’t be quantified how badly the world needs more people like Fr. Fournier. During a time of unthinkable catastrophe and devastation, he has repeatedly, and now literally, walked toward the fire. Time after time he has come close to death, and yet that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to face it head-on.

Of course, the four hundred Parisian firefighters who battled the flame through the night showed just as much courage and daring as Fr. Fournier did. As the fire raged and spread, these men exerted themselves to their limit to keep it at bay. And when the fire was finally extinguished and the smoke finally cleared, the Notre Dame was still standing. 

Unfortunately, two-thirds of the roof was lost, along with the cathedral’s famed spire. Obviously, the building is still quite fragile, and all restoration efforts will have to be carried out with extreme precision.

These restorations have already received a substantial amount of funding thanks to an outpouring of financial support from around the world. In less than two days, roughly a billion dollars had been donated to aid the rebuilding efforts. This effort was spearheaded by a group of France’s wealthiest people: LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, the Bettencourt Meyers family, and the Pinault family. Those three have pledged a combined $565 million, and the example they set has caused a ripple effect in generosity.

The devastation left in the wake of the fire is sobering but on Monday the best of humanity kept darkness and despair from enveloping Paris. James Lane Allen once said that adversity reveals character, and if that’s true then we’re going to be okay. Because as we saw during the events in Paris when circumstances are the direst, the best among us don’t hesitate to rise to the challenge. I doubt that I am one of those people, but until I find out I’m going to try and act a bit more like Father Jean-Marc Fournier.