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Loss of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris touches Tampa Bay residents

Tourists and others photograph the damage to the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Wednesday. Nearly $1 billion has already poured in from ordinary worshippers and high-powered magnates around the world to restore the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris after a massive fire. [Associated Press]
Published Apr. 18

The heartache of the devastating fire that roared through centuries-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has inspired a widespread outpouring of support in the form of money and prayers.

Tuesday, at the annual Holy Week Chrism Mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, the choir changed its opening hymn to Ave Maria "in solidarity with the Catholic community of Paris."

The Diocese of St. Petersburg, which encompasses the Tampa Bay area, will offer "prayers in solidarity with the people of France for the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral and consolation for all who are mourning the loss of this historic and beautiful church," spokeswoman Teresa Peterson said the next day.

She said parishioners can also support an online fundraising effort by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — also called America's Catholic Church — in Washington, D.C.

And Disney — producer of the animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame — announced it will donate $5 million to help rebuild the iconic cathedral.

"I think to watch such an important and beautiful church burn is heart-wrenching, especially during Holy Week," said the Rev. Len Plazewski, pastor at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa.

"I think that so many people, certainly from my parish, have been there. People certainly have seen it on TV. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It connects on so many levels."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: What was lost, what was saved from the Notre Dame fire?

Raymond "Nick" Cruz and his girlfriend, Olivia Portugues, watched news of the fire unfold on television.

They had visited Notre Dame last summer. "I thought it was absolutely breathtaking," Cruz said. "I felt a connection with the cathedral itself. It was just something I had never felt before. The history behind the building. The architecture. What the building stands for. And hearing the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame for my whole life. It was phenomenal.

"And then to see it on TV, it was heartbreaking. It was devastating."

Cruz, who owns Big Ray's Fish Camp in Tampa, said he felt the need to help. The fire occurred during Christianity's holiest week, so this Friday — Good Friday — he will donate a portion of his restaurant's profits to help rebuild the cathedral.

Never mind that some of the world's richest families have already said they will pour millions into the fundraising effort to restore the beloved Notre Dame, whose name — Our Lady, in English — honors the Virgin Mary.

''We know that it's not going to do much," said Cruz, 38. "But us as a world, we can try to rebuild Notre Dame, every penny together."

Sue Brett, a parishioner at St. Jude's, expects there will be other local attempts to raise money to restore the cathedral.

"You'll see the Catholic community coming together in support of that incredible Catholic treasure. I think the world has been touched by this loss," said Brett, who visited Notre Dame in 1997 with her husband, Timothy, just before it was closed for undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau's funeral.

"Once you've visited, you've been changed forever, no matter your background. It is going to be a very interesting thing to see how the spirit moves people to re-create the structure."

The new Notre Dame might see some new, modern elements added as the ancient cathedral is resurrected, said Ed Lewis, a construction project manager at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. He has had extensive experience restoring old, historically significant structures in the United Kingdom.

"Maybe they will have to go with something modern," he said, offering as an example I.M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre. "I think the choice for the French people is whether they want to replicate what's there, or produce something new and iconic.

"The spire was 19th century. The building itself has evolved over time and it's not stopped."

He noted that two years ago there was an appeal to raise €100 million euros (about $113 million in U.S. dollars) to renovate the cathedral.

He predicts restoration will be a lengthy process, starting with determining the structural integrity of the building. Restoring the cathedral might include using its stonework structure — if it's stable — and building a modern structure around it, or replicating the destroyed wooden roof and spire, Lewis said.

What saddens him, though, is thinking of those who will never see the old cathedral.

"There are people who haven't seen Notre Dame and who will in their lifetime not see it," he said. "That is the tragedy of it. They have missed out on that opportunity to see a great piece of work."

The devastation of Notre Dame is not a topic Plazewski will avoid this Holy Week and Easter.

"Obviously, this week that has so many ups and downs. Jesus' betrayal, his suffering and death and then comes new life, and I think that's a great paradigm to look at at Easter," he said.

"We don't have faith in a building, but we build churches to raise the human spirit to contemplate God. The building reflects the faith that we have inside. Obviously, this building needs to be rebuilt, but maybe our faith lives need to be rebuilt, and there is no reason why our faith life can't be rebuilt, as well."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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